A 16-year-old participates in Pfizer's clinical trial to test its coronavirus vaccine candidate.
  • The University of Oxford and AstraZeneca's Covid-19 vaccine can be stored at normal fridge temperatures for at least six months.
  • Unlike Pfizer and BioNTech's vaccine, it therefore doesn't require an ultra-cold storage and transport system, making it cheaper to distribute globally.
  • The price per dose is also far cheaper than for either Pfizer or Moderna's Covid-19 vaccine, in part because AstraZeneca has committed to not profiting from the vaccine during the pandemic.
  • AstraZeneca and Oxford University said Monday that their vaccine was 70% effective.
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The Covid-19 vaccine developed by the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca — which they say is 70% effective — overcomes some of the challenges associated with the rollout of Pfizer and Moderna's vaccines, making it cheaper, and potentially easier, to distribute globally, the manufacturers say.

Unlike Pfizer and BioNTech's candidate, Oxford and AstraZeneca's vaccine doesn't have to be stored and transported at ultra-low temperatures. This could be especially beneficial for developing nations.

AstraZeneca has also pledged not to profit from the vaccine during the pandemic. It is charging considerably less for doses than the other two leading vaccine candidates.

"The vaccine's simple supply chain and our no-profit pledge and commitment to broad, equitable and timely access means it will be affordable and globally available, supplying hundreds of millions of doses on approval,"  AstraZeneca said in a press release.

Oxford and AstraZeneca's candidate is known as an adenovirus-vector platform — it gives people an inactivated virus to stimulate an immune response. This makes it more stable than Pfizer and Moderna's "mRNA-based" vaccines, which inject people with genetic material that causes their bodies to make part of the virus, prompting an immune response.

This stability means it can be stored, transported, and handled at normal fridge temperatures of between 2 and 8 degrees Celsius for at least six months.

Once it reaches its destination, it can be "administered within existing healthcare settings," AstraZeneca said, rather than requiring investment in expensive ultra-cold storage equipment.

Pfizer's vaccine requires a complex "cold chain" transport system. The vaccine has to be transported at -70 degrees Fahrenheit through a system of deep-freeze airport warehouses and refrigerated vehicles, using dry ice and GPS temperature-monitoring devices.

Once it arrives at a healthcare centre, it still has to be stored at ultra-cold temperatures. Even some of the most reputable US hospitals, such as Minnesota's Mayo Clinic, lack adequate facilities to store the vaccine, which has led to a scramble for hypercold freezers. Manufacturers anticipate months-long back orders and delays for the products.

Moderna's vaccine can be transported and stored at fridge temperatures, but only for a month: Oxford and AstraZeneca's vaccine can last six months at these temperatures. For Moderna's vaccine to last this long, it has to be stored at minus 15.5 degrees.

The companies behind the vaccine are also charging less for doses.

AstraZeneca has committed to not profiting from the vaccine over the course of the pandemic. It is charging between R45 and R76 a dose, and will sell at cost price to developing nations in perpetuity.

EU countries have been offered doses for R45 each, The Telegraph reported.

In contrast, Pfizer charged the US R298,57 per dose for the first 100 million doses, its partner company BioNTech said. It added that the price changes based on the size of the order. Each person requires two doses of the vaccine, putting its cost at R597 per person.

Moderna's CEO Stéphane Bancel, meanwhile, told Welt am Sonntag that the company will charge from R382 to R566 per dose, depending on order size, which he called "a fair price".

The last potential advantage for the Oxford vaccine comes in manufacturing. Trial results suggest the jab is on average 70% effective — but it was 90% effective in regimen that contains a half-dose, followed by a full dose, the results showed. In the trial, this was more effective than two full doses.

This potentially means the groups can vaccinate more people than expected, although further investigation is required.

Prof Andrew Pollard, the trial's lead investigator said Monday the half-dose finding was "intriguing" and would mean "we would have a lot more doses to distribute."

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