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. 

    The approval of the new vaccine in late December was the good news that we needed to finish the year, as more areas headed into tier 4 lockdown restrictions over the festive period and speculation had been ever-growing around the prospect of another lockdown in the new year.

    The Oxford University and AstraZeneca vaccine is one of many, including the Pfizer vaccine, that has broken ahead of the pack and made history for the speed at which it’s been developed and made ready to roll out across the country.

    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.

    Now ready for distribution and being rolled out across the country, the government is hoping that this could be a real turning point in the fight against coronavirus. This is what you need to know about it…

    Where is the AstraZeneca vaccine made?

    scientist pippeting Oxford vaccine into dish

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    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”.

    “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.

    How effective is the Oxford and AstraZeneca vaccine?

    scientist looking at Oxford vaccine representation

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    The most recents tests found that the Oxford vaccine was roughly 70.4% effective overall, which is lower than the Pfizer vaccine but still significantly high enough to offer a good level of protection.

    It has a minimum efficiency of 62% and maximum of 90% depending on the dosage, as when people were given half a dose and then a full dose, effectiveness of the vaccine hit 90%. But overall, there was not enough clear data to approve the half-dose, full-dose idea.

    However, further unpublished data has suggested that leaving a longer gap between the first and second dose increases the effectiveness of the jab.

    The initial results come from trials involving 24000 people from all over the world, including the UK. 

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

    health worker receiving Covid-19 vaccine

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    All the vaccines are expected to be effective against the new variants of the virus that have emerged over the last month.

    Ewan Birney, the deputy director general of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory and joint director of its European Bioinformatics Institute in Cambridge, confirmed this. He has explained that the vaccines, including the Oxford and AstraZeneca vaccine, has been tested with all the new variants of the virus, so “there is every reason to think that the vaccines will still work against this new strain, though obviously that needs to be tested thoroughly.”

    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?

    Mother and adult daughter talking

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    Much like the Pfizer vaccine, the Oxford vaccine will be rolled out to those most vulnerable to the virus first, before being given to the rest of the population. 

    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.  

    As Health Secretary Matt Hancock told BBC Breakfast: “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.

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

    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?

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

    Credit: Getty

    The side effects of the Oxford Covid-19 vaccine are not currently fully known. However, trials had to paused earlier in the autumn due to a potentially serious adverse side effect had by one volunteer. 

    Compared to a control group of those given the meningitis vaccine in another part of the trial, however, the Covid-19 vaccine caused only minor side effects more frequently. Some these side effects would be reduced by taking Paracetamol and the 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 and there were no severe illnesses in anyone who received the vaccine. As a result, approval has been requested from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency for the Oxford vaccine. So if it’s is deemed successful and safe then it will join the 40 million doses bought from Pfizer and the 2 million Moderna vaccines already secured to create the UK’s coronavirus vaccination programme.