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Everything You Need to Know About the Oxford-AstraZeneca Vaccine

Tamás Vaski 2021.01.23.

Hungary’s National Institute of Pharmacy and Nutrition (OGYÉI) has authorized the use of the Oxford-AstraZeneca Vaccine, making Hungary the first European Union member state to allow its use. Here is what you need to know.

Oxford university and AstraZeneca’s vaccine is already being used in the United Kingdom, and the EU’s licensing authorities have stated that they will publish their decision regarding its European licensing by the end of the month. Hungary is the first country on the continent to authorize it.

The vaccine is the result of researchers from Oxford University, who have been working on the cure for the coronavirus for over a year now, partnering with BioPharmaceutical company Astrazeneca.

The Hungarian government reserved 5 million doses of it last year.

90 Percent Effective?

The phase three trials of the vaccine have been published. The results show that it is safe and can be up to 90 percent effective. The findings are interesting however, and show that this vaccine may have even more hidden potential.

Half of the participants in the study were given two doses of the vaccine, while another half received a saline or a meningococcal conjugate vaccine (not the coronavirus vaccine) for comparison.

The vaccine proved 62 percent effective on patients given two full doses, but 90 percent effective on a 1,367 participant subset who were given a half dose followed by a full dose.

Why would less of the vaccine create a more effective response? The answer may be related to its design.

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A Different Type of Vaccine

The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is an adenovirus-based “viral vector” vaccine, which uses a modified version of a chimpanzee virus combined with the gene for the spike protein of the coronavirus.

This combination creates an imitation of the coronavirus which can enter the body’s cells just like the actual virus, but cannot replicate, and is therefore harmless.

When the vaccine is administered, a controlled amount of the manufactured virus enters the body’s cells and instructs them to produce the spike proteins found on the coronavirus. These are literally microscopic spikes which form around the cell.

The body’s immune system believes it is being attacked by an actual virus and begins producing antibodies and white blood cells to destroy the cells which are now covered with spike proteins. This is an easy victory for the immune system, since the virus cannot put up a fight due to its inability to replicate.

If the patient catches the coronavirus later, the immune system performs the same defensive action. Now the body already knows how to deal with the threat, since the vaccine trained it to develop an effective immune response.

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Because the vaccine uses this type of technology, it is likely that there is an optimal dosage amount which can maximize effectiveness. If this is found, the vaccine will become even more promising, and the 90 percent efficacy will be a guarantee.

The Oxford vaccine has been shown to provoke an immune response in people of all ages. Like all vaccines, however, scientists still do not know if it stops patients from catching the coronavirus. This will be determined with time.

Oxford-AstraZeneca’s High Production, Low Cost Approach

One of the noticeable differences in the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is its price. AstraZeneca has stated that it is not making a profit off of the vaccine during the pandemic, and is selling the vaccine at 3 to 4 US dollars per dose.

Compared to 25 to 37 US dollars per dose of the Moderna vaccine, and 20 US dollars per dose of the Pfizer vaccine, this is a much more inviting offer.

Another significant difference found with the Oxford vaccine is that it can be stored in an average refrigerator, while the Pfzier-BioNTech vaccine’s required storage temperature is negative 70 degrees Celsius. This likely contributes to the cost difference.

200 million doses of the vaccine were produced in 2020. If everything goes according to plan, AstroZeneca will be able to produce 200 million doses a month. Their goal, however, is to produce 3 billion vaccines by the end of 2021, comparable to Pizer-BioNTech’s 1.3 billion and Moderna’s 500 million to 1 billion projections.

Professor Helen Fletcher from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine says that the vaccine has been deliberately developed to have a global impact, including people living “in the most fragile and poorest regions of the world.”

Interestingly however, South Africa, which has ordered 1.5 million doses of the Oxford-Astrazeneca vaccine, will pay more than double the stated price, 5.25 US dollars per dose.

The company has not given a clear answer as to why this is, but South Africa’s deputy direct general of health Anban Pillay said that high-income countries pay less because they have invested in the research and development of the vaccine.

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Countries other than Hungary, South Africa, and the UK which have licensed the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine include Thailand, India, and Brazil.

Clearly Oxford and Astrazeneca’s vaccine uses a unique method to protect the body. While some may be disheartened by the large variability in the test results, people can be assured that this is a safe and credible vaccine. With further research, Oxford and AstraZeneca will surely find the perfect dosage amount and ensure maximum effectiveness.

Featured photo illustration by Scott Heppell/AP/MTI

 

 


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