COVID vaccine can save lives despite not being perfect: AstraZeneca
CAPE TOWN (SOUTH AFRICA) – AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine is not perfect, but will have a big impact on the pandemic, its chief executive predicted on Thursday, as the drugmaker pledged to double output by April and the African Union gave its backing for the shot.
The two-dose inosculation, developed with Oxford University, has been hailed as a “vaccine for the world” because it is cheaper and easier to distribute than some rivals.
But its rapid approval in Europe and elsewhere has been clouded by doubts over its most effective dosage and interval between doses.
Data at the weekend also showed it was less effective against a fast-spreading variant of the virus in South Africa, prompting the country to pause rollout of the shot, and the company has also been embroiled in a row with the European Union over supply delays.
“Is it perfect? No it’s not perfect, but it’s great. Who else is making 100 million doses in February?” CEO Pascal Soriot said on a conference call about the vaccine.
“We’re going to save thousands of lives and that’s why we come to work everyday.”
Soriot said the company aimed to produce 200 million doses per month by April, double this month’s level as it scrambles to ramp up output to meet demand as the world tries to tame a pandemic that has killed 2.35 million.
That would put the company on track to make 1.8 billion doses between April and December if that level remained unchanged.
The company has set a target to produce 3 billion doses this year, with India’s Serum Institute making much of that aimed at poorer nations.
On Wednesday, the company enlisted Germany’s IDT Biologika as a contract manufacturer.
AstraZeneca said it expected much-anticipated data from the U.S. trial of the vaccine before the end of March, and that it was confident the shot offered relatively good protection against severe disease and death for the South African variant. Its disappointing results were against milder cases.
However, after rising to become Britain’s most valuable company last summer, the company has now slipped to sixth, in a move some analysts attribute to doubts over the vaccine.
“In a year or two we will look back and everybody will realise we made a big impact,” Soriot said.