AstraZeneca hails US trials as EU rows with UK over supplies

Agence France-Presse
AstraZeneca hails US trials as EU rows with UK over supplies
(FILES) In this file photo an illustration picture shows a drop from a syringe with the logo of British pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca on November 17, 2020. AstraZeneca's Covid-19 vaccine is 80 percent effective at preventing the disease in the elderly and does not increase the risk of blood clots, the biotech firm said on March 22, 2021, following its US phase III efficiency trials.It was 79 percent effective at preventing symptomatic Covid-19 in the overall population and 100 percent effective at preventing severe disease and hospitalization, it said.
AFP / Justin Tallis

WASHINGTON, United States — Pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca said Monday that trials showed its Covid-19 vaccine is 100% effective in preventing severe disease, as a row simmered between Britain and the EU over much-needed supplies of the jab. 

The AstraZeneca shot is cheaper and easier to store than many of its rivals, but several countries in Europe and other parts of the world last week suspended its use because of isolated cases of blood clots.

It is also at the centre of a row between Britain and the EU, after Brussels threatened to ban exports to the UK unless the company delivers more of the 90 million doses it agreed to supply in the first quarter of 2021. 

Irish prime minister Micheal Martin said such a move would be "a very retrograde step," while Britain's leader urged the European Union not to carry out its threat. 

"We're all facing the same pandemic, we all have the same problems," Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Monday.

The spat is mostly focused on a Netherlands factory that is still awaiting official EU approval, but which both sides claim as a future source of the AstraZeneca jab.

Exiting the pandemic

Vaccination drives are seen as crucial to overcoming the pandemic that has killed more than 2.7 million people since first emerging in China in late 2019. 

They are also the most likely route out of lockdowns and restrictions that continue to paralyze economies around the world. 

A top US health official on Monday warned Americans it was too soon to resume travel despite progress in the battle against the coronavirus, after data showed the country recorded its highest number of airport check-ins since last year.

"Now is not the time to travel," Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), told reporters, urging people to keep up with measures to stem the spread of the virus as the vaccination rate increases.

More than 430 million jabs have now been rolled out globally, mostly in wealthier nations.

The World Health Organization (WHO) director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Monday slammed the "grotesque" vaccine gap, calling it a "moral outrage." 

"Countries that are now vaccinating younger, healthy people at low risk of disease are doing so at the cost of the lives of health workers, older people and other at-risk groups in other countries," he said.

Even as demand for vaccines remains high, public confidence in the AstraZeneca jab in particular has taken a knock in Europe. 

A survey by British pollsters YouGov showed Monday that a majority of people in the biggest EU states — including Germany, France, Spain and Italy — view the vaccine as unsafe.

And on Monday, Iceland said it would not yet be resuming AstraZeneca vaccinations.

The EU's medicines regulator and the WHO insist there is no evidence of linking the drug to blood clots. 

And AstraZeneca said Monday that US tests on more than 30,000 people showed no increased risk of thrombosis.

It said the jab was 79% effective at preventing symptomatic Covid-19 in the overall population, 100% effective at preventing severe disease and hospitalization and 80% effective at preventing the disease in the elderly.

Putin hits back

A Russia-made vaccine, Sputnik V, has also met with skepticism in the West, because it was registered last year, before undergoing any large-scale clinical trials.

Some EU officials such as Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton continue snub the jab, saying on Sunday, "we have absolutely no need for Sputnik V". 

But Russian President Vladimir Putin hit back against such comments on Monday.

"We are not imposing anything on anyone," the 68-year-old said, announcing he planned to get a jab himself this week.

Other countries seem to have no such reservations.

The Russian Direct Investment Fund, which financially backed the vaccine, said it had signed an agreement with an India-based pharmaceuticals giant for the production of up to 200 million doses of the jab a year.

Mourning their dead

Until vaccine programmes are fully up and running, mass gatherings continue to cause governments headaches, with protesters taking to the streets against virus restrictions in countries such as Germany, the Netherlands, Austria and Bulgaria.

In the French Mediterranean port city of Marseille, roughly 6,500 people — mostly young and without masks — took part in a carnival parade, flouting a ban on public gatherings.

While the pandemic continues to rage, some countries are mourning the anniversary of their first deaths from the virus. 

Church bells rang out across the Czech Republic Monday to mark one year since the first Covid-19 fatality in the nation, which has the highest per capita death rate in the world, according to data collected by AFP. 

And on Tuesday, Britain will mark the anniversary of the first coronavirus lockdown with a "National Day of Reflection" with parliament observing a minute's silence in tribute to the more than 125,000 people who have died there.




As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: June 16, 2022 - 8:48am

Pharma giants Sanofi and GSK said on July 29, 2020, that they have agreed to supply Britain with up to 60 million doses of a potential COVID-19 vaccine. The agreement covers a vaccine candidate developed by France's Sanofi in partnership with the UK's GSK and is subject to a "final contract."

This thread collects some of the major developments in the search for a vaccine to ease the new coronavirus pandemic. (Main photo by AFP/Joel Saget)

June 16, 2022 - 8:48am

A panel of experts convened by the US Food and Drug Administration unanimously recommends Covid-19 vaccines  for children under five, the final age group awaiting immunization in most countries.

Formal authorizations should follow soon, with the first shots in arms expected early next week, just over a year-and-a-half after the first Covid vaccines were greenlighted for the elderly in December 2020.

"This recommendation does fill a significant unmet need for a really ignored younger population," says Michael Nelson, a professor of medicine at the University of Virginia, one of the 21 experts asked to vote for the milestone meeting. — AFP

June 15, 2022 - 9:24am

A panel of US medical experts recommends the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine for use in children aged six through 17.

Formal authorization should soon follow, at which point families will have a second option against the coronavirus, as Pfizer's vaccine was given the greenlight for teens and younger children last year.

After weighing available data, 22 experts convened by the US Food and Drug Administration unanimously agreed that the known benefits outweighed the known risks when Moderna's vaccine was administered as two shots at the adult dose of 100 micrograms to those aged 12-17, and half of that for children 6-11. — AFP

June 8, 2022 - 10:16am

A panel of experts convened by the US drug regulator recommends the Novavax COVID-19 shot, a late runner in the fight against the virus that could nonetheless play a role in overcoming vaccine hesitancy.

Three vaccines are currently approved in the United States: Pfizer and Moderna, which are based on messenger RNA, and Johnson and Johnson, which recently received a recommendation against broad use becase of links to a serious form of clotting.

Experts voted 21 in favor of the Novavax vaccine, with none against, and one abstention, despite some concerns it may be linked to rare cases of heart inflammation. — AFP

June 4, 2022 - 6:04pm

The Food and Drug Administration voices concern about myocarditis being potentially linked to the Novavax COVID-19 vaccine, just as experts are to weigh its use in the United States. 

The Novavax vaccine is already authorized in other countries, particularly in Europe. In the United States, an independent committee convened at the request of the FDA is to meet Tuesday to evaluate data from the clinical trials of Novavax and give its recommendation. 

In advance of that, the agency published a lengthy document on Friday analyzing these results, as it had done for the three other vaccines already authorized in the country. — AFP

April 14, 2022 - 9:19am

The head of US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer says a COVID-19 vaccine effective against multiple variants is possible before the end of 2022.

Chairman Albert Bourla says the firm was also working on producing a vaccine that could provide good protection for a whole year, meaning people would come back annually for boosters, as with influenza shots.

"I hope, clearly by autumn... that we could have a vaccine" that worked against not only the dominant Omicron but all known variants, he says. — AFP 

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