AstraZeneca's Role in the Global Vaccination EffortThe Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine made many controversial headlines in mid-March 2021 because of a suspected link between it and a rare and sometimes fatal blood clot that forms in the brain. However, the AstraZeneca vaccine will be a crucial part of the global vaccine rollout effort. Not only is it a safe and effective vaccine approved by the World Health Organization (WHO), but it may also be the best candidate to vaccinate the world’s most vulnerable populations in developing countries. AstraZeneca’s role in the global vaccination effort is key in ensuring the global eradication of COVID-19.

The Science Behind the AstraZeneca Vaccine

The AstraZeneca vaccine is around 70% effective against COVID-19 with some studies suggesting it can be up to 90% effective. Although it is less effective than the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, it is still more effective than what many experts anticipated any vaccine would be.

In mid-March, some European countries paused the AstraZeneca vaccine rollout based on claims that it caused a rare blood clot. A lack of evidence led every country to resume production and use of the vaccine. Out of 11 million people who received the AstraZeneca vaccine in the U.K., five people reported developing this blood clot. Though there has been no sufficient data to suggest any correlation, British officials and the European Medicines Agency (EMA) will continue to monitor the vaccine in case of other side effects.

Because of its effectiveness against COVID-19, the AstraZeneca vaccine has joined the ranks of other WHO-approved vaccines, like Pfizer and Moderna. Here are some reasons why AstraZeneca is better than other vaccines in leading global vaccination efforts.

Benefits of AstraZeneca

  • Cost: The AstraZeneca vaccine will not be marked up. This means it will cost less than $5 per dose. By contrast, the Pfizer vaccine is $20 per dose, and the Moderna vaccine is around $35. This makes the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine a more feasible option for developing countries with limited funds.
  • Temperature: The AstraZeneca vaccine does not need to remain at the astronomically low temperatures the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines require. Instead, it can stay at standard refrigeration levels for months. Thus, for developing countries, which often lack the distribution infrastructure and/or are very hot, the AstraZeneca vaccine is the ideal option.
  • Commitments: Oxford/AstraZeneca has already promised it will provide the developing world with more than a billion doses of the vaccine. Of that, 300 million vaccines will come through the WHO’s COVAX initiative. While Moderna has recently joined the COVAX initiative, the bulk of its agreement of 500 million doses will not be distributed until 2022. Pfizer has joined Oxford/AstraZeneca in the COVAX initiative.
  • Production: A major barrier to widespread vaccine rollout is that countries and companies often lack the infrastructure or ability to produce the vaccines fast enough. The solution would be for vaccine companies to relinquish intellectual property (like patents) to let others produce generic versions. Unlike other WHO-approved vaccines, AstraZeneca has shared its patent information with manufacturers in some low-income/developing counties that need the vaccine desperately, like India and Brazil.
  • Current events: In mid-February, COVAX supplied 600,000 AstraZeneca vaccines to Ghana. As of the beginning of March, Cote d’Ivoire also received and began rolling out approximately 500,000 vaccines from COVAX. The initiative is using AstraZeneca because it can be kept at a temperature that makes it a simpler vaccine to distribute. The AstraZeneca vaccines given to these two countries came from a factory in India.

Why is it Important to Vaccinate the World?

Developed countries cannot focus only on their own vaccination efforts and neglect the needs of low-to-middle-income countries. If vaccines do not reach developing countries effectively and quickly, these countries will face even more severe economic distress. This will worsen inequality between wealthy and impoverished nations. Until developing countries have significant access to vaccines, the global economy will lose around $150 billion in output every year. AstraZeneca’s role in the global vaccination effort is essential in ensuring this does not happen.

Additionally, many epidemiologists argue that developing countries must receive substantial amounts of the vaccine at the same time as wealthier countries for the global rollout to be the most successful. Otherwise, the virus will continue to spread and mutate, leaving the vaccine efforts in developing countries to be less effective.

President Biden recognizes that the U.S. population will not be safe from the pandemic if people in developing countries are not protected. Following this, Biden has promised that any surplus vaccine doses will go to developing counties. AstraZeneca’s role in the global vaccination effort is essential in ending the global pandemic and ensuring safety for all nations.

– Elyssa Nielsen
Photo: Flickr