Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine ‘best for Africa’

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A vaccine created in a partnership between the University of Oxford and UK pharma giant AstraZeneca, may be the best weapon African countries have against the global pandemic based on its price and storage requirements, experts have said.

The vaccine could be up to 90% effective if taken in two doses, and can be stored at standard refrigeration temperatures of -8C, according to data from trials. 

This could make the vaccine the best option for Africa, as countries on the continent are already equipped with a cold storage chain that can maintain these temperatures, says Professor Greg Hussey, director of Vaccines for Africa, a non-profit academic unit at the University of Cape Town.

“AstraZeneca’s vaccine candidate will be more applicable than Moderna or Pfizer given the fact that we have a system in place to maintain the cold chain. We have a standard programme on immunisation, and a cold-chain system in place for the living vaccines. Every country on the continent has a management system for the cold chain,” Hussey says.

AstraZeneca intends to make doses available at around $3-4 in contrast with prices of anywhere between $10-$50 for the other two, which will make it more accessible to African nations stricken by the pandemic’s economic impact. It will be made available on a non-profit basis “in perpetuity” to low- and middle-income countries in the developing world, say the developers.

US biotech firm Moderna’s vaccine candidate was 94.5% effective, but requires refrigeration at -20C for shipping and longer-term storage for up to six months, although it can survive in standard refrigeration for up to 30 days. Pfizer’s vaccine requires storage at around -70C.

‘Vaccine for the world’

Hundreds of millions of Oxford/AstraZeneca doses have been secured by Covax, (Covid-19 Vaccine Global Access) an initiative co-led by the World Health Organization (WHO), the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and the GAVI Vaccine Alliance.

“Positive early data on any vaccine candidate is welcome news – even more so when it concerns a vaccine candidate that can be transported and delivered via traditional refrigeration and storage methods, and the manufacturer has committed to supply on a not-for-profit basis for the duration of the pandemic,” GAVI CEO Seth Berkley said in a statement.

Around 40 low-income African countries signed up to Covax will get free vaccines to immunise up to 20% of the most vulnerable in their societies, although middle income African countries will have to pay. 

South Africa’s Biovac Institute, a public-private partnership, told African Business that they hoped to strike a deal with Covax and global pharmaceutical firms to manufacture a vaccine in its Cape Town plant for the country and possibly the wider continent. 

But Biovac says its facility isn’t designed to produce AstraZeneca’s vaccine, which uses a viral vector platform. Biovac is talking to a number of different companies in a bid to find the right fit.

Mass vaccinations are unlikely to start on the continent until half-way through next year, Vaccines for Africa’s Professor Hussey says.

“Currently we know that the vaccines that are going to be produced this year and for next year will probably only be sufficient for high-income countries, because they have bought up the supply. 

“Africa is at the tail-end of the queue. At the end of the day it’s going to be dependent on the supply-chain and manufacture of these vaccines. I would assume that by the middle-to-end of next year there may be sufficient vaccines available for many countries.”

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