At a time when the low-cost COVID-19 vaccine candidate jointly developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University seems to raise hopes for many countries including India, experts have raised questions on the manner in which the company arrived at the efficacy percentage for its vaccine candidate.
The questions were raised after AstraZeneca and Oxford University acknowledged a manufacturing error. The error has raised questions on the preliminary results of the vaccine’s efficacy recently shared by the company.
A statement describing the error on Wednesday came days after the company and the university described the shots as “highly effective” and made no mention of why some study participants didn’t receive as much vaccine in the first of two shots as expected.
In a surprise, the group of volunteers that got a lower dose seemed to be much better protected than the volunteers who got two full doses.
In the low-dose group, AstraZeneca said, the vaccine appeared to be 90 per cent effective. In the group that got two full doses, the vaccine appeared to be 62 per cent effective. Combined, the drugmakers said the vaccine appeared to be 70 per cent effective.
But the way in which the results were arrived at and reported by the companies has led to pointed questions from experts.
The partial results announced on Monday are from large ongoing studies in the UK and Brazil designed to determine the optimal dose of vaccine, as well as examine safety and effectiveness. Multiple combinations and doses were tried in the volunteers. They were compared to others who were given a meningitis vaccine or a saline shot.
Serum Institute plans 10 crore vaccines
After AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford declared that their COVID-19 vaccine candidate has efficacy of up to 90 per cent with an average efficacy pegged at 70 per cent, Serum Institute of India (SII) chief Adar Poonawalla had said that a minimum of 100 million doses of its vaccine ‘Covishield’ will be available by January for India.
Notably, the vaccine named as ‘Covishield’ has a cost advantage and is easier to store and transport as against other vaccine candidates developed by Pfizer and Moderna. It is also one of the major hopes for India which has recorded over 91 lakh cases of the virus and a death toll surpassing 1.31 lakh.
Poonawalla said that 40 million doses of the vaccine have been already produced and the Centre will procure the stock at a rate of Rs 250 or less. The SII chief said the vaccine would be available in the private market at a price of Rs 500-Rs 600. The pricing for the private market has been kept in such a way that the distributors will make some money, he had said.
PM Modi’s visit to SII
Interestingly, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is likely to visit the Serum Institute of India, located in Pune, on Saturday. SII is the world’s largest vaccine manufactures and is gearing up to manufacture AstraZeneca’s vaccine candidate on a mass scale.
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