Here in the United States, we’re still working almost entirely with two vaccines thus far. One is from Pfizer and the other from Moderna. But as of today, the folks in the UK will have a new vaccine option. This one was developed by Oxford and AstraZeneca and it supposedly has a couple of advantages. The chief among these is that the vaccine can be stored at more manageable temperatures than the Pfizer product, which basically needs to be kept at sub-zero temperatures. But as this AP report indicates, the way they will be distributing and administering this new vaccine seems questionable to some in the medical community.
Britain on Wednesday authorized emergency use of a second COVID-19 vaccine, becoming the first country to greenlight an easy-to-handle shot that its developers hope will become the “vaccine for the world.”
The Department of Health said it had accepted a recommendation from the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency to authorize the vaccine developed by Oxford University and U.K.-based drugmaker AstraZeneca.
Britain has bought 100 million doses of the vaccine, and plans to begin injections within days. Hundreds of thousands of people in the U.K. have already received a different vaccine, made by U.S. drugmaker Pfizer and German firm BioNTech.
Anything is better than nothing at this point, I suppose, but there are a couple of issues with this release, as mentioned above. The clinical testing of the AstraZeneca vaccine went well enough, being deemed “safe.” But there’s no indication that it will be any better for people who are prone to severe allergic reactions. Also, their testing showed that the vaccine was 70% effective. Doesn’t that seem a bit on the low side when you consider that both Moderna and Pfizer finished with results above 90%? If the vaccine actually produces a 30% failure rate, that’s going to represent a massive number of people across Great Britain who will think they have immunity but wind up contracting and spreading the virus.
The next administrative decision that is raising some eyebrows is the choice of the British Department of Health to “prioritize giving as many people as possible a single dose.” Like the others already in circulation, the AstraZeneca vaccine is supposed to be given in two doses, but the DoH is saying that they are confident that a single dose initially “is believed to give a large measure of protection.” How much protection is “a large measure” when we’re already talking about a vaccine that’s only showing a 70% success rate to begin with?
They’re planning to make sure everyone does get a second shot, but they’re projecting that it will take at least twelve weeks for that to happen in most cases. So for all but a lucky few, the Brits will be walking around for three months or more with only half of the vaccine the manufacturer intended them to get. It’s not difficult to picture a lot of cases where people simply assume that they are protected after one shot and getting back out to the pubs to mix it up like they used to. This could backfire and produce yet another surge with more lockdowns in the spring.
I’m not a doctor and I assume that the health officials in the British government have weighed all of these issues before coming to this decision. And I certainly do hope that our allies on the other end of the Special Relationship pull through this as well as possible. But whenever you see the government interjecting itself into the decisions of health professionals, well… let’s just say it makes me nervous.