The Oxford candidate is cheaper, easier to store and transport than the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines
Oxford University's novel coronavirus vaccine developed by AstraZeneca could be around 70% effective, a large-scale trial has shown.
It will be seen as a triumph, but also comes off the back of Pfizer and Moderna showing 95% protection. However, the Oxford jab is far cheaper, and is easier to store and get to every corner of the world than the other two.
So, it will play a significant role in tackling the pandemic, if it is approved by regulators. There is also intriguing data that suggests perfecting the dose could increase protection up to 90%.
The Bangladesh government has already signed a deal with Beximco Pharmaceuticals and the Serum Institute of India to buy three crore doses of the Oxford University vaccine.
Each dose will cost the government $5, which Beximco Pharmaceuticals will buy from the Indian manufacturer Serum Institute for $4. Beximco will get $1 per dose from the government for the vaccine's import, preservation and management costs.
One of the key factors behind the reliance on the Astra-Oxford vaccine is the initial price. Astra has said it would not profit during the pandemic and that the vaccine will cost between $4 and $5 a dose.
Salman F Rahman, private industry and investment adviser to the Bangladeshi prime minister, said Bangladesh would get the Oxford vaccine at the same rate as India.
"Oxford AstraZeneca distributed their manufacturing rights among different countries. For Bangladesh, they have given it to Serum Institute. With the licence, Serum will produce the vaccine for Bangladeshis, too," he said.
The Pfizer shots cost $19.50 a dose, or $39 for a two-shot immunisation. Moderna said it is charging $32 to $37 a dose for smaller deals and less for bigger purchases, according to a Bloomberg report.
Astra-Oxford also has advantages beyond cost when it comes to the rollout in low- and middle-income countries. The global scope of manufacturing eases worries about countries restricting exports, and the product should be easier to transport and store, reports Bloomberg.
The Oxford vaccine, importantly, can be kept at refrigerator temperatures, while those from Pfizer and Moderna, based on novel messenger RNA technology, require freezing for longer-term storage and transport, says the BBC.
Astra-Oxford jabs even showed 90% protection
More than 20,000 volunteers were involved, half in the UK and the rest in Brazil, in the Astra-Oxford vaccine trail. There were 30 cases of Covid-19 in people who had two doses of the vaccine and 101 cases in people who received a dummy injection.
The researchers said it works out at 70% protection. When volunteers were given two "high" doses the protection was 62%, but this rose to 90% when people were given a "low" dose followed by a high one. It is not clear why there is a difference.
"We are really pleased with these results," Prof Andrew Pollard, the trial's lead investigator, told the BBC.
He said the 90% effectiveness data was "intriguing" and would mean "we would have a lot more doses to distribute."
There were also lower levels of asymptomatic infection in the low-followed-by-high-dose group which "means we might be able to halt the virus in its tracks," Prof Pollard said.
When will Bangladesh get the vaccine?
"After Moderna and Pfizer, the Oxford vaccine will get approval in the UK next December. In January or February, the World Health Organization may approve the Oxford vaccine and then we will get 3 crore doses immediately," Salman F Rahman said.
The adviser to the PM said all the shots will arrive in the country in six months – 50 lakh doses per month.
"Immunising 25 lakh people every month is a gargantuan challenge for us. The government is working on it in advance with the health ministry," he added.
Highlighting the government's efforts to get the vaccine fast, Salman said, "No other country in the region has taken such an initiative. India will produce it on its own for domestic demand. But no one like Bangladesh has booked 3 crore doses by making advance payment."
Tremendously exciting news: Researchers react
Though a vaccination will not bring life to normal tomorrow, the situation could improve dramatically. The gigantic challenge that still lies ahead is to produce enough shots and then carry out the immunisation process across the globe.
Yet this could be the potential vaccine for what people have spent a year waiting for and what lockdowns have bought time for.
Oxford Prof Peter Horby told the BBC, "This is very welcome news, we can clearly see the end of the tunnel now."
Dr Stephen Griffin, from the University of Leeds, said, "This is yet more excellent news and should be considered tremendously exciting. It has great potential to be delivered across the globe, achieving huge public health benefits."