The UK is lucky that the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine works

By Alexander Hoffman | Thursday 26th November

In the past fortnight, we have seen a wave of significant developments in Coronavirus vaccines. Pfizer/BioNTech were the first to announce a vaccine with 90% efficacy, and Moderna followed shortly after, touting a vaccine with 95% efficacy. In the world of vaccines, these are the best efficacy rates for which one could hope. The Flu vaccine is just 40-60% effective, so this is excellent news, indeed.

However, for the UK, the announcement of the highly effective Moderna vaccine wasn’t exactly great news, as this is one of the vaccines that the UK government hadn’t pre-ordered. This mistake was probably due to a high price when considering its likelihood of efficacy, given its experimental nature.

The UK already purchased 40 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, which uses the same experimental technique. It couldn’t afford the gamble. The EU, however, decided it could, and ordered hundreds of millions of doses of both vaccines, placing an order for 300 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine, and a last-minute order of 120 million doses of the Moderna vaccine.

After Moderna announced that its vaccine is highly effective, the UK managed to scramble together a last-minute deal to secure 5 million doses of the vaccine, but this was obviously at a higher cost than if it had participated in the EU’s vaccine procurement scheme.

The vaccines, while highly effective, have their drawbacks. Both vaccines are stored at ultra-cold temperatures, making it difficult to administer them in standard healthcare settings. Meanwhile, Oxford/AstraZeneca announced this week that their vaccine is up to 90% effective and requires an average fridge temperature, allowing for the use of existing food and drink infrastructure as the spine of the vaccine distribution network

In this case, it appears that the UK didn’t lose out, as it has 100 million doses of the Oxford vaccine on pre-order, allowing everyone in the country to be vaccinated sometime next year. It also has 40 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine. However, had the UK not been so lucky, and the Oxford/AstraZeneca failed, it would have been kicking itself over its failure to acquire doses of a second effective vaccine.

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