Oxford and AstraZeneca vaccine: Where is it made and how effective is it?

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  • The Oxford and AstraZeneca vaccine, created by the University of Oxford, has now been approved and the first dose was distributed on Monday January 4.

    Along with the Pfizer vaccine, the Oxford vaccine has got the UK’s vaccination programme off to a flying start. As of early February, over nine million people had received the first vaccine and everyone in a care home had been offered the first jab.

    There is also more known about the vaccine now than ever before, with updated information given out regularly. We now know, for example, whether pregnant woman can have the Covid-19 vaccine in some cases and there’s a vaccine calculator to determine when you might be eligible for the jab.

    The rollout of the Oxford vaccine was certainly the good news we needed in early 2021, as the country headed into a January lockdown and new Covid-19 variants emerged.

    But it all started on November 23 2020, when Oxford University announced a significantly positive result from their final phase three trial of the vaccine. In collaboration with pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca plc, Oxford University’s vaccine has been proven to be effective at preventing coronavirus and offering a high level of ongoing protection.

    Where is the AstraZeneca vaccine made?

    The “vast, vast majority” of the doses will be made in the UK, according to Ian McCubbin, the manufacturing lead for the UK’s Vaccine Taskforce. However, he also revealed that the initial doses of the vaccine will actually be produced in the Netherlands and Germany as “a little bit of a quirk of the programme”.

    scientist pippeting Oxford vaccine into dish

    “But once that’s supplied, which we expect will be all by the end of this year, then the remainder of the supply will be a UK supply chain.”

    This doesn’t currently take into account the possible border delays that could occur from January 1 as a result of Brexit. It’s already been confirmed that there will be challenges initially on products entering the country, most of them coming from greater custom controls and more restrictions on hauliers between Kent and Dover.

    However, high priority has been given to both the Oxford and Pfizer vaccines by the government and the international firms behind them. This means it should be easier to move the vaccines into the country through new routes, avoiding delays, than some other products.

    Who funded the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine?

    The UK and US governments have funded the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine, under the promise that the company will deliver millions of vaccines worldwide.

    Oxford University revealed that they had received £65.5 million in government funding in May last year for the Covid-19 vaccines, following early trial success. Also in May last year, CNBC reported that the U.S. Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority had given AstraZeneca more than $1 billion in funding for the coronavirus vaccine.

    Woman preparing Oxford vaccine

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    AstraZeneca itself has also invested in the vaccine, but doesn’t stand to make any profit from it until the pandemic is over. The pharmaceutical company predicts, according to Sky News, that it will spend $6 billion (£4.5 billion) on the production of three billion doses of the vaccine by the end of 2021.

    Is AstraZeneca a UK company and where are the factories?

    AstraZeneca is a joint British and Swedish company and their headquarters are located in Cambridge, England.

    It was formed in 1999 through the merging of two different companies: Swedish organisation Astra AB and British company Zeneca Group. Although they mainly operate out of the UK, with one of their research and development centres also in Cambridge, they also work from Gothenburg in Sweden and Gaithersbury in Maryland, USA.

    Is the AstraZeneca vaccine effective?

    A recent study has found that a single dose of the Oxford vaccine offered 76% protection for three months. Followed by the second dose, this increases the vaccine to 82% effective.

    While it’s not as high as the 95% effectiveness of the Pfizer vaccine, it’s considerable enough to be successful. The flu vaccine, for example, is only 50% effective in most cases.

    Oxford and AstraZeneca vaccine in vial

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    The same study also produced some hugely positive news. As well as protecting the individual with the vaccine from contracting Covid-19, the results showed that the Oxford vaccine could reduce transmission of the virus by 67%.

    Is the AstraZeneca vaccine effective for over 65s?

    The AstraZeneca and Oxford University vaccine is effective for over 65s, despite what recent reports from Germany suggest.

    Germany’s disease control agency, the Robert Kock Institute, said in late January that the Oxford vaccine should only be given to those aged between 18 to 64. They put this down to a lack of data from those aged over 65 years old, suggesting there were doubts on how effective the vaccine was for people in this age group. In all other aspects, they concluded that the Oxford vaccine was just as suitable as the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

    Multiple experts have dismissed this idea, however, including Astrazeneca themselves. A statement from the company, before the vaccine was later approved for use elsewhere in Europe, reads, “Reports that the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine efficacy is low in adults over 65 years are not an accurate reflection of the totality of the data. The latest analyses support efficacy in this age group, which we expect to be published by the EMA in the coming days.”

    Person receiving Covid-19 vaccine

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    While Dr June Raine, chief executive of the UK Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), said, “Current evidence does not suggest any lack of protection against Covid-19 in people aged 65 or over. The data we have shows that the vaccine produces a strong immune response in the over-65s.”

    Head of immunisations at Public Health England, Mary Ramsay, also backed the call for approval of the Astrazeneca vaccine and explained the reasons for the doubt. She said there “were too few cases in older people in the AstraZeneca trials to observe precise levels of protection in this group” but the data they did have on immune responses was “very reassuring”.

    Will the vaccine work against the new Covid-19 variants?

    The vaccine works against the UK variant of Covid-19, first discovered in Kent, and the South Africa variant to some extent. This is why, after 100 cases of the South African variant were discovered in England, parts of the UK are now undergoing mass testing programmes.

    health worker receiving Covid-19 vaccine

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    Epidemiologist Dr Susan Hopkins told Sky News that three of the vaccines (including the Oxford vaccine) were effective “at a level greater than what was set as a minimum standard set by the WHO”.

    “We expect all other vaccines to have a similar level of effectiveness, particularly in reducing hospitalisation and death.”

    “What we do know is that [the variant] has more mutations… that is causing perhaps to have diminished effectiveness to a vaccine but still very good.”

    However, scientists from the University of Oxford are preparing to make changes to the vaccine to beat any emerging Covid-19 variants. It’s thought that the team behind the Oxford and Astrazeneva jab will take on studies to reconfigure the vaccine at just 48 hours notice, to get it ready to distribute.

    When will the Oxford vaccine be ready to distribute?

    Now the Oxford vaccine has been approved, it’s ready to distribute. From Monday December 4, the government began vaccinations with the Oxford and AstraZeneca jab to all those high on the priority list. Brian Pinker, 82, was the first person to receive the vaccine as part of the efforts to curb the virus around the country.

    It’s a spot of good news among the announcement of further tier 4 restrictions on millions of people around the country, after a new variant of the virus was discovered in the UK in December. On December December 29, 53,135 people tested positive for Covid-19, which quickly became the highest single day rise since mass testing began. There were also 414 more deaths within 28 days of a positive test.

    Speaking on the distribution of the Oxford University and AstraZeneca vaccine, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said, “This is a pivotal moment in our fight against this awful virus and I hope it provides renewed hope to everybody that the end of this pandemic is in sight.”

    But he added to “keep cases down and protect our loved ones”, it’s essential to follow social distancing rules and coronavirus-prevention measures such as increased hygiene.

    Is the Oxford vaccine a live vaccine?

    Technically the Oxford vaccine is live, but it’s not as scary as it sounds. The Oxford vaccine is created using a common cold virus (not the Covid-19 virus) from chimpanzees and removing about 20% of the virus’ instructions. 

    This means, according to the university, that the vaccine cannot cause disease in humans but it can be made in a laboratory under special conditions. 

    The 20% space is then replaced with the instructions for the spike protein from Covid-19. Once inside the human cell, the instructions have to be replicated over and over again in a process known as transcription. It’s this repeat replication that is used to make large amounts of the spike protein. 

    This is essential for the vaccine to work as when the spike protein is made, the immune system reacts to it and pre-trains our systems to identify and destroy a real Covid-19 infection in the future. 

    This is one of the things that makes it different to both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, professor of vaccinology at the University of Oxford, Sarah Gilbert explains, as these are both mRNA vaccines and “no virus is needed to create the mRNA vaccine”. 

    “This means the rate at which the vaccine can be produced in accelerated.” She explains, but emphasises that the Oxford vaccine “uses a harmless, weakened version of a common virus which causes a cold in chimpanzees.”

    “Researchers have already used this technology to produce vaccines against a number of pathogens including flu, Zika and Middle East respiratory syndrome (Mers). The virus is genetically modified so it is impossible for it to grow in humans.”

    Who will get the Oxford vaccine first in the UK?

    The Oxford vaccine will be rolled out to those most vulnerable to the virus first. Then the rest of the population, just like the Pfizer and other vaccines. 

    Mother and adult daughter talking

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    This means that those in care homes are likely to be offered the vaccine first, along with their carers. Then all those over 80 years of age and health and social care workers. Then it’s likely to be all those who are 75 years and over and so on.  

    Health Secretary Matt Hancock said, “We will start with the most elderly and people in care homes and of course their carers, to make sure that others don’t catch it.”

    At the bottom of the priority list is anyone under the age of 50 (who are not clinically vulnerable). However, the priority list could change if the vaccine is not considered suitable for older adults. 

    How many Oxford Covid vaccines does the UK have?

    The UK government has ordered 100 million doses of the Oxford vaccine, which is enough to vaccine 50 million people.

    young woman researching side effects of Oxford vaccine at night with lit laptop screen

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    These doses will be enough to vaccinate the entire population (apart from children), the health secretary has said. Especially as they’ll be combined with the full amount of Pfizer and BioNTech jabs ordered.

    Children, alongside pregnant women, are one of the demographics currently not being vaccinated as part of the government’s programme.

    What are the side effects of the Oxford Covid vaccine?

    The side effects of the Oxford Covid-19 vaccine are not currently fully known. However, trials had to paused last year due to a potential adverse side effect had by one volunteer. 

    Yet when we compare it to a control group of those giving the meningitis vaccine, the results are hugely positive. The Covid-19 vaccine caused only minor side effects more frequently. Some these side effects would be reduced by taking Paracetamol as well. Researchers have said that there were not serious negative effects from the vaccine.

    Of the people who took part in the trials, no one was hospitalised. There were no severe illnesses in anyone who received the vaccine either. As a result, approval has been requested from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency for the Oxford vaccine. If it’s safe then it will join the 40 million doses bought from Pfizer and the 2 million Moderna vaccines. Together these will create the UK’s coronavirus vaccination programme.