Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine to be sold to developing countries at cost price

Jab that is part of global initiative to distribute doses will remain at low price ‘in perpetuity’

The coronavirus vaccine produced by Oxford University and AstraZeneca will be available on a non-profit basis “in perpetuity” to low- and middle-income countries in the developing world.

The details of arrangements to supply poorer countries came as AstraZeneca revealed the interim results of a phase 3 trial of the vaccine, which is being heralded as the first to meet the more challenging requirements of the developing world.

However, vaccine hopes for poorer nations were tempered by the head of the World Health Organization, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who said there was a risk the world’s poor could be trampled in a “stampede for vaccines”, adding that $4.3bn (£3.2bn) was still needed in order to share vaccines fairly.

Unlike the vaccine produced by Pfizer-BioNTech, which requires ultra-cold storage, the AstraZeneca vaccine can be kept in the kind of conventional fridge used to store vaccines around the world, with a shelf life of up to six months.

Also unlike the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, AstraZeneca’s experimental vaccine is already a part of Covax, the global initiative that is hoping to distribute about 2bn doses to 92 low- and middle-income countries at a maximum cost of $3 a dose.

As global justice campaigners demanded more transparency from Oxford and AstraZeneca over details of the deal to supply doses to people in the developing world, the partnership confirmed in a statement that lower-income countries would receive the vaccine on a not-for-profit basis.

“A key element of Oxford’s partnership with AstraZeneca is the joint commitment to provide the vaccine on a not-for-profit basis for the duration of the pandemic across the world, and in perpetuity to low- and middle-income countries,” it said.

As part of the initiative, AstraZeneca announced during the summer it would make 1.3bn doses of its then untried vaccine available at cost to ensure that any vaccine was not hoarded by the world’s wealthiest countries.

The arrangement follows deals both with Covax and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (Cepi), which agreed to help fund AstraZeneca’s vaccine manufacturing programme even while it was still being developed.

Under the arrangement the Serum Institute of India (SSI) will produce 1bn doses under licence from AstraZeneca for India and low-income countries with the aim of producing 400m doses by the end of the year.

But confusion later emerged over SSI’s role, when its chief executive, Adar Poonawalla, appeared to suggest it would produce vaccines for Indian use first, including for the private Indian market, and only supply doses to Covax later.

“It’s very important we take care of our country first, then go on to Covax after that and then other bilateral deals with countrie,” said Poonawalla.

In public comments he had previously said his company would help ensure equitable access to two vaccines for poor countries.

The promising results from AstraZeneca come at a time of mounting concern over how to distribute the vaccine equitably. With an estimate that more than 17bn doses may be required globally, and with the risk some could be spoiled, the world’s wealthiest countries have used their economic clout to over-procure potential vaccines, often from multiple candidates from the more than 300 in development, to push to the front of the queue.

Countries in the developing world, by contrast, have been left behind, lacking the influence of blocs such as the EU.

AstraZeneca has said it will immediately apply for early approval of the vaccine where possible, and it will seek an emergency use listing from the World Health Organization, so it can make the vaccine available in poorer countries.

Pascal Soriot, the chief executive of the company, said on Monday that the Oxford vaccine’s simpler supply chain and AstraZeneca’s commitment to provide it on a non-profit basis during the pandemic meant it would be affordable and available to people around the world.

Welcoming the new data from AstraZeneca, Seth Berkley, the chief executive of Gavi, the global vaccines alliance, one of the key partners in Covax, suggested the vaccine would be more accessible to poorer countries.

“In an ideal world we would like to have vaccines that have a long shelf life, that are temperature stable, ideally easy to use,” he told the BBC. “Some still require ultra-cold chain – that’s storage at minus 80C – and that does make it difficult.

“The advantage of the AstraZeneca vaccine [is] it can be stored in an ordinary refrigerator, from two to eight degrees [celsius], and is similar to the characteristics of other vaccines that we use in the developing world.”

• This article was amended on 24 November 2020. The Moderna vaccine does not require “ultra-cold storage” as an earlier version stated. It can be stored at -20C, similar to the temperature of a home freezer, for up to six months; and at refrigerated conditions (2C to 8C) for up to 30 days.


Peter Beaumont

The GuardianTramp

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