The news comes as a fourth vaccine-maker — Johnson and Johnson — nears the end of testing in the United States. That vaccine, which is being tested at the University of Kentucky Medical Center and Baptist Health Care in Lexington among other places, could be approved as early as March.
AstraZeneca said the first doses were being released Wednesday, and that vaccinations will begin early in the New Year. The rollout comes amid a dramatic surge in coronavirus cases in the United Kingdom.
“This regimen was shown in clinical trials to be safe and effective at preventing symptomatic Covid-19, with no severe cases and no hospitalizations more than 14 days after the second dose,” AstraZeneca said.
AstraZeneca has promised to supply hundreds of millions of doses to low- and middle-income countries, and to deliver the vaccine on a not-for-profit basis to those nations in perpetuity.
The vaccine is significantly cheaper than others that have been approved, and far easier to transport and distribute than its rivals. Unlike the vaccines developed by Moderna and Pfizer, the AstraZeneca offering does not need to be stored at super-cold temperatures.
For comparison: Pfizer expects to produce as many as 50 million vaccine doses in 2020 and up to 1.3 billion doses in 2021. Moderna said last month that it’s on track to manufacture 500 million to 1 billion doses next year.
The world’s richest countries have already reserved much of the capacity offered by Pfizer and Moderna. That makes the AstraZeneca vaccine even more important to developing economies.
Take India, for example. Asia’s third-largest economy has not ordered the vaccines sold by Pfizer and Moderna, but is expected to receive hundreds of millions of doses of the AstraZeneca shot.
“The efficacy of the Oxford vaccine is … the most encouraging sign yet that India has a route to ending its Covid-19 epidemic and the social distancing that continues to weigh on the economy,” analysts at Capital Economics wrote in a recent research note.
India, which is one of the world’s largest vaccine manufacturers, could approve the AstraZeneca vaccine as early as Wednesday, according to media reports. Doses are being made in the country by the Serum Institute of India.
One caveat: The team developing the AstraZeneca vaccine previously said it had an “an average efficacy of 70%,” with one dosing regimen showing an efficacy of 90%. That’s not quite as good as Pfizer and Moderna.