U.K. Sidelines Homegrown Astra Vaccine in mRNA Booster Push
(Bloomberg) -- Britain will roll out a Covid vaccine booster campaign next week in which the homegrown shot from AstraZeneca Plc and the University of Oxford will hardly feature at all.
Instead, the U.K. government is relying on shots from Pfizer Inc. and Moderna Inc., both based on messenger RNA technology, and only offering Astra in cases where people can’t have an mRNA vaccine.
AstraZeneca’s vaccine, one of the first to be developed, has grappled with safety concerns over potential side effects, including blood clotting. Though the U.S. has not cleared it for use, it’s been widely employed in Britain and many other countries, often to inoculate older adults.
Studies show the mRNA vaccines as boosters provide a very good immune response, regardless of the first two shots people originally received, U.K. health authorities said Tuesday. The program calls for an extra dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech SE vaccine as the preferred option, while a half dose of the Moderna shot may be offered as an alternative.
The U.K. decision has global implications as a number of governments advance with plans to bolster immunity in the face of the delta variant and consider “mix and match” vaccine campaigns. The government estimates nine countries have already announced booster campaigns, with potentially 18 others considering such a step, according to Jonathan Van-Tam, deputy chief medical officer for England.
The country is still depending on AstraZeneca for the broader vaccine program, government officials said.
The U.K.’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation would have taken side effects into account in its recommendations, said Saul Faust, chief investigator in a trial that looked at seven vaccines as potential boosters. The “side effect profiles are as important as immunogenecity in any booster deployment,” he said.
An AstraZeneca representative declined to comment. Chief Executive Officer Pascal Soriot said in July that the company’s focus “right now is to produce vaccine for the low- and middle-income countries.”
The drugmaker has supplied more than 1.2 billion doses to more than 170 countries.
By supporting development of the AstraZeneca vaccine, “the U.K. government has already contributed significantly to global health and to protecting overseas populations against Covid,” said Penny Ward, visiting professor in pharmaceutical medicine at King’s College London. “However, their first duty, as the government of a democratic nation, is to protect the health and wellbeing of the U.K. population they serve.”
©2021 Bloomberg L.P.