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AstraZeneca takes ‘commercial decision’ to withdraw Covid vaccine

AstraZeneca takes ‘commercial decision’ to withdraw Covid vaccine

The Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid vaccine is being withdrawn after three billion doses, as demand shifts to newer vaccines that can be more easily updated to target new variants.

In a statement AstraZeneca said it was a commercial decision based on there being a ‘surplus of available updated vaccines’, which had led to a fall in demand.

The company pointed to independent studies which had found the vaccine had saved over 6.5 million lives in the first year of use alone.

A notice from the European Medicines Agency issued at the same time stated the vaccine was no longer available for use.

Developed by researchers at the University of Oxford in record time, it was cheaper and easier to store than other vaccines but as it began to be used in younger age groups it was a rare but serious risk of vaccine-induced thrombocytopenia and thrombosis (VITT).

Reacting to the news, UK experts urged people to remember how important the vaccine was in the initial response to the pandemic.

Professor Adam Finn, professor of paediatrics at the University of Bristol, said the vaccine was less effective than it had once been because of substantial changes to the spike protein in newer variants.

‘Accordingly, there is probably no commercial case for continuing to manufacture and distribute the vaccine and I think this is likely to be the main reason the company have decided to discontinue making and selling it.

But he added there was still a need to better understand the mechanism by which the VITT occurred in order to avoid any risk of something similar happening with other vaccines in the future.

‘This vaccine saved very large numbers of lives in many countries around the world particularly in 2021 and 2022, both because it was developed and tested so rapidly and because Astra Zeneca made it available at very low cost so that it could be used in many of the poorer countries in the world.’

Professor Peter Openshaw, professor of experimental medicine at Imperial College London, said the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine was designed for rapid global deployment and was the least expensive of all the vaccines that were available in the early stages of the pandemic.

‘In the face of alternative vaccines that can be rapidly updated and do not have this unexplained and unexpected effect, the decision to cease issuing this type of vaccine is logical.

‘However, the vast contribution that the Oxford/AZ vaccine made to global protection against Covid should not be forgotten.’

Professor Jonathan Ball, deputy director of Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine said it was all too easy to forget how desperate the global population were for an effective Covid-19 vaccine.

‘With almost everything we do there is a harm-benefit assessment that we have to make, and at the peak of the pandemic the AZ vaccine brought far more benefit than harm – that would still be the case, but now more effective and safer avenues are available.’

AstraZeneca said: ‘Our efforts have been recognised by governments around the world and are widely regarded as being a critical component of ending the global pandemic.

‘We will now work with regulators and our partners to align on a clear path forward to conclude this chapter and significant contribution to the Covid-19 pandemic.’


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