Britain Drug Regulatory Agency Approves Second COVID-19 Vaccine for Emergency Use
The year 2020 is ending with good news about two more potential vaccines that could slowly bring an end to the global COVID-19 pandemic that has killed nearly 1.8 million people out of a total of nearly 82 million infections. Britain’s medical regulatory agency announced Wednesday that it has granted emergency authorization of a coronavirus vaccine developed jointly by British-Swedish pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca and Oxford University. Late-stage clinical trials of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine revealed it to be 70% effective against COVID-19. The vaccine had a 62% efficacy rate for participants given a full two doses, but tests of a smaller sub-group revealed it to be 90% effective when given a half-dose followed by a full dose weeks later. The AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine is the second to be approved by Britain for its mass inoculation effort, which began earlier this month with the vaccine developed by U.S.-based Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech. The new vaccine will be distributed across the country within days, with Britain having already ordered 100 million doses. Unlike the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which needs to be stored in super-cold refrigerators at temperatures below 70 degrees Celsius, the newly approved vaccine can be stored at normal temperatures of 2 to 8 degrees Celsius, making it easier to transport and administer to people in poorer and remote nations. But the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine has come under intense scrutiny over the number of people who took part in the smaller sub-group, which was just 2,741, and whether it is effective for people over age 55. In a related development, Chinese state-owned drug maker Sinopharm is seeking regulatory approval for its COVID-19 vaccine after it was found to be 79.3 percent effective against the disease in a final large-scale clinical trial. The vaccine, developed by Sinopharm’s subsidiary Beijing Biological Products Institute, is one of five vaccines developed by Chinese companies that have already been administered to more than one million people in China under its emergency use program while still undergoing Phase 3 clinical trials. The United Arab Emirates granted emergency use approval for a Sinopharm-developed vaccine earlier this month after it was shown to be 86% effective in preventing moderate and severe cases of the virus in a late-stage clinical trial back in September. Wednesday’s vaccine news comes just days after several European Union countries began inoculating its citizens after receiving a first shipment of 10,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. Vaccinations also began Wednesday in Singapore, with a 46-year-old nurse the first in the city-state to be inoculated with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. The nurse is one of more than 30 staffers at the National Centre for Infectious Diseases to receive the first dose of two-shot vaccine, with the second dose to be delivered sometime in January. Singapore, which has one of the lowest rates of total infections with just 58,569, including 29 deaths, is the first Asian nation to approve the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. It expects to have enough vaccine doses for all its 5.7 million people by the third quarter of 2021. Meanwhile, another potential COVID-19 vaccine developed by U.S.-based drug maker Novavax has begun final-stage testing in the United States. The trials involving 30,000 volunteers will focus on high-risk older adults, as well as people from Black and Hispanic communities who have been disproportionately affected by the virus.