Just one vaccine shot reduces the risk of being hospitalized by Covid-19 by more than 90 per cent, according to stunning new findings.
Public health officials have told politicians in the UK about the remarkable results apply for both the Pfizer and Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, with the British jab proving slightly more effective but the jab has not been approved by the FDA in the United States.
The reason is simple. AstraZeneca has not yet filed an application in the U.S., saying it first needs to finish its phase 3 U.S. trials. So far, AstraZeneca has not applied for its doses to be distributed.
Drug approvals usually take months once an application is filed, but the FDA’s emergency authorizations for COVID vaccines have been granted within weeks.
The company knows that the FDA won’t simply accept results from trials in other countries so it is waiting the results of clinical trials in the U.S. before making its application.
Some confusing results from its trial from differently designed clinical trials in Brazil and the UK raised questions about dosing as well as how well it works for people 65 and older.
Germany and France are not administering the vaccine to their older residents, despite the World Health Organization saying it was fine to do so.
A single shot of either the Oxford-AstraZeneca or Pfizer jab cuts the chance of needing hospital treatment by more than 90 per cent, ‘real world’ results from the NHS vaccination program show
Chief designer Professor Sarah Gilbert told CBS News that her team has already been working for months on modifying their vaccine to tackle new variants of the coronavirus and expects to have a new version ready in the fall.
The ability to turn on a dime is down to the ‘plug and play’ platform used in the original Oxford vaccine, Gilbert said.
‘You decide what antigen you want to use from the virus you want to make a vaccine against, exactly which version of it, and then you just slot it in and you make your vaccine,’ she said.
Oxford has its own biomanufacturing facility on campus which means modifications can be fast-tracked.
“We’ve established our pipeline,” she said. “We make the first seed of stock of the vaccine in the manufacturing facility in Oxford. That’s just a few minutes away from here on campus.”
Gilbert said that a modified vaccine that would take on new variants could be rolled out in the United States in a matter of months.
In a ignominious climbdown, health chiefs in both countries have now suggested they could update their policies for the Oxford University researched jab after initially refusing to give it to the over 65s.
France changes its tune on AstraZeneca jabs following Ursula von der Leyen’s praise for the vaccine
France’s government has said it wants to ‘rehabilitate’ the AstraZeneca vaccine as EU leaders try to undo the doubts they sowed about the jab which have led to low uptake despite its proven effectiveness.
The French health ministry admitted that the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine had an ‘image deficit’ which had led to ‘feeble’ usage of the jab, with only 107,000 people immunised with it so far.
It comes after Emmanuel Macron himself raised doubts about the jab’s effectiveness and claimed that Britain had taken a risk by authorising it so soon, while French regulators refused to approve it for over-65s.
Meanwhile the French government is considering new local restrictions to deal with a worsening Covid-19 situation as it scrambles to avoid a new national lockdown.
‘We will use all possible levers to rehabilitate the vaccine,’ the French health ministry said, according to Le Telegramme, days after real-world data in Scotland showed the AstraZeneca shot reducing Covid hospitalisations by 94 per cent.
Germany’s government is also pleading with people to take the AstraZeneca jab, while EU chief Ursula von der Leyen said that she herself would take it – despite her furious row with the drugmaker last month over missing shipments to the EU.
That struggle is set to continue into the spring with as many as 90million doses missing from AstraZeneca shipments in the second quarter of 2021.
An EU official involved in talks with the firm says AstraZeneca has warned that it may deliver only half of its promised 180million doses from April to June, having slowed supplies in January because of delays at a Belgian factory.
The new shortage could hamper the EU’s ability to meet its target of vaccinating 70 per cent of adults by summer – with Britain promising to offer one dose to 100 per cent by July 31.
The EU supply shortage is seen as one of the main reasons for a widely-criticised vaccine roll-out which is lagging far behind that in Britain.
While the UK has handed out 27.0 doses per 100 people, the EU is lagging behind on 6.2 and has not significantly sped up its progress in recent weeks.
Von der Leyen defended her policies by pointing out that the EU had handed out 27milion doses in total compared to 17million in Britain – but the bloc of 27 countries has a population more than six times larger.
She also noted that Italy had given double-doses to more people than Britain, but it has handed out far fewer doses overall.
Catching up to Britain will be made even harder if AstraZeneca shortfalls continue into the early summer, as an EU official told Reuters last night.
Von der Leyen told the Augsburger Allgemeine that ‘I would take the AstraZeneca vaccine without a second thought, just like Moderna’s and BioNTech/Pfizer’s products.’
For Britain, it represents another huge boost to the country’s world-beating vaccine rollout, which has now achieved nearly 20 million first injections. The hugely successful inoculation program is threatened only by the small minority who are still refusing to have the jab.
It helps to explain why the numbers being hospitalized are falling in the UK so rapidly in the oldest age groups.
Deaths among the over-75s have dropped by 40 per cent, while the number of over-85s being admitted to intensive care units with Covid has dropped close to zero.
The strong results for the Oxford vaccine are a rebuke to the German authorities, which last month advised against its use in the over-65s.
It is even better than the Pfizer jab at stopping people getting so sick that they need to be admitted to hospital, Ministers have been told.
A single shot of either jab cuts the chance of needing hospital treatment by more than 90 per cent, ‘real world’ results from Britain’s NHS vaccination program show.
But the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, shunned by millions across Europe because of concerns over trial data, is proving slightly more effective at stopping severe Covid-19 illness than the Pfizer jab.
Its apparent superiority even holds among over-70s, vindicating the UK drug regulator’s decision to approve it for use in older people.
The results are a massive boost not just for Oxford and AstraZeneca, but also the Government. Ministers have ordered 100 million doses, making it the workhorse of the NHS vaccination campaign.
The landmark results will add to growing confidence that vaccination is breaking the link between infections and deaths.
The figures were calculated by comparing Covid hospitalization rates across England in those who have received a first dose of vaccine in the NHS rollout, to those of a similar age who have not.
They follow a Scottish study of Covid hospitalization rates, published last week, which came to similar conclusions.
Edinburgh University researchers found that by the fourth week after injection, ‘the Pfizer and Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines were shown to reduce the risk of hospitalization from Covid-19 by up to 85 per cent and 94 per cent, respectively’.
Among over-80s, who are at highest risk of severe illness, a single dose cut the risk of needing hospital treatment by 81 per cent from week four onwards, when the results from both types were combined.
Well-placed sources said the larger English study found hospitalization rates in over-70s were slightly lower among recipients of the Oxford vaccine than those who got the Pfizer drug. Last month, German authorities advised against using the Oxford vaccine in over-65s, citing lack of evidence of effectiveness from formal trials. The trials were dogged by low numbers of older volunteers.
French President Emmanuel Macron then caused consternation by falsely claiming the Oxford vaccine was ‘quasi-ineffective’ for over-65s – although he has since rowed back by saying he would have it.
In a subtle riposte to European critics, Professor Sarah Gilbert, who spearheaded Oxford’s Covid vaccine project, said real-world data ‘now provides evidence of high effectiveness of both the Oxford-AstraZeneca and BioNTech-Pfizer vaccines in preventing hospitalization in people over the age of 80, after a single dose, supporting our confidence in using this vaccine in adults of all ages.’
The results are already having a stunning impact on Covid statistics, which show hospitalizations and deaths falling fastest among Britain’s oldest people. Deaths in over-75s – almost all of whom have now had their first jab – fell 40 per cent in the last week. By contrast, they fell 23 per cent in under-65s, who remain largely unvaccinated. The number of Covid admissions to intensive care units among over-85s has also dropped to near zero in the last couple of weeks, Public Health England reports indicate.
But the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, shunned by millions across Europe because of concerns over trial data, is proving slightly more effective at stopping severe Covid-19 illness than the Pfizer jab
Germany and France look set to approve the AstraZeneca Covid jab for the over 65s in a major U-turn aimed at speeding up their shambolic vaccine drives. Pictured: A near empty vaccination centre in Germany earlier this month
EU nations including Germany are being far outpaced by Britain in the vaccine race after Brussels was late to place orders with firms including Pfizer and AstraZeneca
In another boost for Oxford, new evidence also indicates one dose of its vaccine provides more durable protection. Updated trial results show that from three weeks to three months after first dose, the vaccine was 76 per cent effective at preventing symptomatic infection and ‘protection did not wane’.
Protection from one Pfizer dose dipped from 84 per cent five weeks after injection, to 58 per cent after more than six weeks.
Last night it emerged that Germany is reconsidering its recommendation on the Oxford vaccine.
Professor Thomas Mertens, head of the country’s vaccination commission, said there will be ‘a new, updated recommendation very soon’, the newspaper Der Spiegel reported.
He also lamented the fallout from their January decision, saying they ‘never criticized the vaccine’, only the lack of data in over-65s.
He added: ‘However, the whole thing went somehow bad.’