Trial successes from Pfizer Inc and Moderna Inc have buoyed hopes that a Covid-19 vaccine is coming soon. But much of the world, outside of rich nations like the US, is counting on another company’s shot to escape the crisis.
Findings from the final stage of AstraZeneca Plc’s vaccine studies are due to be released shortly, and the stakes for lower- and middle-income nations are immense. The shot developed with the University of Oxford
accounts for more than 40% of the supplies going to those countries, based on deals tracked by London-based research firm Airfinity Ltd.
The Astra vaccine costs a fraction of the price set by Pfizer and will be manufactured in multiple countries, from India to Brazil. It should be easier to deploy far and wide than other shots that need to be stored at ultra-cold temperatures. But if the UK partners can’t match the lofty efficacy levels Pfizer and Moderna delivered or roll out their inoculation quickly, the pandemic might continue spreading death and disease in countries relying on it.
“There’s a lot riding on the Astra vaccine,” said Suerie Moon, co-director of the Global Health Centre at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva. For lower-income countries, “it’s huge.”
Pfizer applied for an emergency use authorisation in the US, and may begin the rollout in mid-December. While wealthy nations are in a position to receive the first supplies of the Pfizer and Moderna shots thanks to significant quantities they’ve snapped up in advance, most regions are depending heavily on companies following the front-runners, especially
AstraZeneca, Novavax Inc and Johnson & Johnson.
Supplies will likely struggle to meet demand in the months after vaccines arrive, raising concerns about global access.
“The vast majority of the global population live in low- and middle-income countries,” said Mark Eccleston-Turner, a law and infectious disease specialist at Keele University in England. A global program called Covax has made strides in an ambitious effort to deploy future vaccines equitably around the world, getting dozens of countries to join and securing deals for 700 million doses so far.
AstraZeneca reached an agreement to supply the initiative, while a collaboration including the Serum Institute of India agreed to accelerate the production of Astra or Novavax shots for low- and middle-income nations, priced at a maximum of $3 per dose, with an option to secure more. A Covax pact with Sanofi and partner GlaxoSmithKline Plc followed last month.