Britain and the European Union have called a truce in their dispute over supplies of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine for COVID-19.
“Given our interdependencies, we are working on specific steps we can take – in the short, medium and long term – to create a win-win situation and expand vaccine supply for all our citizens,” said a joint statement from the British government and the European Commission, the EU’s executive branch, issued late Wednesday. “We are all facing the same pandemic, and the third wave makes co-operation between the EU and U.K. even more important.”
Both sides hope to reach a sharing arrangement for vials produced at AstraZeneca’s plants in Belgium and the Netherlands. Some of those doses are destined for the U.K. but they could now be shared with the EU.
Canada pre-purchased millions of doses of seven different vaccine types, and Health Canada has approved four so far for the various provincial and territorial rollouts. All the drugs are fully effective in preventing serious illness and death, though some may do more than others to stop any symptomatic illness at all (which is where the efficacy rates cited below come in).
- Also known as: Comirnaty
- Approved on: Dec. 9, 2020
- Efficacy rate: 95 per cent with both doses in patients 16 and older, and 100 per cent in 12- to 15-year-olds
- Traits: Must be stored at -70 C, requiring specialized ultracold freezers. It is a new type of mRNA-based vaccine that gives the body a sample of the virus’s DNA to teach immune systems how to fight it. Health Canada has authorized it for use in people as young as 12.
- Also known as: SpikeVax
- Approved on: Dec. 23, 2020
- Efficacy rate: 94 per cent with both doses in patients 18 and older, and 100 per cent in 12- to 17-year-olds
- Traits: Like Pfizer’s vaccine, this one is mRNA-based, but it can be stored at -20 C. It’s approved for use in Canada for ages 12 and up.
- Also known as: Vaxzevria
- Approved on: Feb. 26, 2021
- Efficacy rate: 62 per cent two weeks after the second dose
- Traits: This comes in two versions approved for Canadian use, the kind made in Europe and the same drug made by a different process in India (where it is called Covishield). The National Advisory Committee on Immunization’s latest guidance is that its okay for people 30 and older to get it if they can’t or don’t want to wait for an mRNA vaccine, but to guard against the risk of a rare blood-clotting disorder, all provinces have stopped giving first doses of AstraZeneca.
- Also known as: Janssen
- Approved on: March 5, 2021
- Efficacy rate: 66 per cent two weeks after the single dose
- Traits: Unlike the other vaccines, this one comes in a single injection. NACI says it should be offered to Canadians 30 and older, but Health Canada paused distribution of the drug for now as it investigates inspection concerns at a Maryland facility where the active ingredient was made.
How many vaccine doses do I get?
All vaccines except Johnson & Johnson’s require two doses, though even for double-dose drugs, research suggests the first shots may give fairly strong protection. This has led health agencies to focus on getting first shots to as many people as possible, then delaying boosters by up to four months. To see how many doses your province or territory has administered so far, check our vaccine tracker for the latest numbers.
Britain and the EU have been arguing for months over a vaccine supply shortage that stems largely from problems at AstraZeneca’s plants in Europe. The production issues have not affected the company’s two British facilities, which have continued to supply the U.K.
AstraZeneca was supposed to deliver 120 million doses to the EU by the end of March but the company has said it will be able to supply only about 30 million. EU officials want the company to redirect doses from its British plants, insisting that it is obligated to do so, but the company and the British government has argued that the U.K. production is part of a separate contract.
EU leaders met Thursday to discuss proposals to tighten export rules for vaccines. The proposed regulations would limit exports to countries that are withholding domestically produced vaccines or already have a robust vaccination program – as is the case with Britain.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has been highly critical of Britain for not sharing its supply of the AstraZeneca vaccine. “Open roads should run in both directions,” she told reporters last week. She pointed out that while almost 11 million doses of EU-made vaccines have been shipped to the U.K., none have been exported from Britain.
EU Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides has insisted that the bloc is not proposing an export ban. “We’re dealing with a pandemic, and this is not seeking to punish any countries,” she said Wednesday.
Meanwhile, AstraZeneca sought Thursday to clarify efficacy data it submitted earlier this week to regulators in the United States.
On Monday, the company said data from clinical trials showed the vaccine was 79-per-cent effective in preventing symptomatic illness. However, the data was challenged by U.S. health officials, who questioned whether the company had used outdated information or had cherry-picked the best figures.
On Thursday, AstraZeneca provided an updated analysis of the trial data and said the vaccine was 76-per-cent effective. The latest analysis was based on 190 infections among more than 32,400 participants in the U.S., Chile and Peru. The earlier data was based on 141 infections through Feb. 17.
“The primary analysis is consistent with our previously released interim analysis and confirms that our COVID-19 vaccine is highly effective in adults, including those aged 65 years and over,” said Mene Pangalos, the executive vice-president of biopharmaceuticals R&D at AstraZeneca, in a statement. “We look forward to filing our regulatory submission for emergency use authorization in the U.S. and preparing for the rollout of millions of doses across America.”
“There seems to be a breakdown in relations between the [U.S. health agency] and the company, which is probably due to a variety of factors and is sad,” said Stephen Evans, a professor of pharmacoepidemiology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. “What counts will be the FDA assessment, and that will be done based on scrutiny of the full data and not press releases … . This vaccine is so important for global health and the disputes do not promote global health.”
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