No plans for UK to order more supplies of AstraZeneca Covid vaccine

·4 min read
<span>Photograph: Nick Potts/PA</span>
Photograph: Nick Potts/PA

There are no plans to order further supplies of the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid vaccine for the UK, it has been revealed, as experts expressed hope that a new jab designed to target two variants will form the backbone of the autumn booster programme.

Deemed a British success story, and estimated to have saved millions of lives worldwide, the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid jab played a key role early in the UK’s vaccination programme. But Prof Anthony Harnden, the deputy chair of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), has suggested it is unlikely to be used in the future.

“It was a fantastic vaccine, and it still is a fantastic vaccine for the world … and the population which received AstraZeneca vaccines of course got very good protection from it,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Tuesday. “But the way that the taskforce has decided to purchase the vaccines, we are using mRNA vaccines now.”

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) confirmed to the Guardian that it had not placed further orders for the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, and said the decision was down to a recommendation by the JCVI that mRNA vaccines – such as the Pfizer or Moderna jabs – should primarily be used for boosters.

“The results of the Cov-Boost trial conducted during the summer of 2021 provided good evidence that mRNA vaccines are the most effective option for the UK’s booster programme,” a JCVI spokesperson said, noting that the jabs provided a very good immune response regardless of which vaccine was used for previous doses.

“Real-world data of vaccine effectiveness following the rollout of the booster programme support the results from the Cov-Boost trial,” they said.

While the JCVI has previously advised booster shots with the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab can occur in exceptional circumstances, the DHSC has now procured supplies of the Novavax vaccine – approved by the MHRA in February – which the JCVI has recommended should be offered to people who cannot have mRNA vaccines for clinical reasons, such as allergic reactions.

The Oxford/AstraZeneca jab has had a bumpy ride since its first results were released in 2020, including concerns over rare blood clot complications, misinformation – such as claims the jab has low efficacy in elderly people – and criticisms over the design of the vaccine’s trials.

Adam Finn, a professor of paediatrics at the University of Bristol and a member of the JCVI, said the committee could only advise on the deployment of vaccines that the government had decided to buy.

He said an abundance of caution over the issue of blood clots in younger people was one reason the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab was not deemed suitable for the booster programme, along with public perception of the vaccine.

“Obviously, the whole success of the vaccine programme hinges on there being a public buy-in to accepting the vaccine,” he said.

The jab was also unlikely to be used for first and second doses, he suggested. “I think primary immunisation [has] pretty much stopped now, in the sense that anyone who wants a vaccine by now will have had it,” Finn said.

In addition, the DHSC noted that those who cannot have an mRNA jab for their primary course could now be offered the Novavax vaccine.

Simplicity matters, Finn suggested. “Operationally, the fewer vaccines you’ve got, the easier the communication, the easier the logistics,” he said, adding that this also goes for the autumn booster campaign.

“The ideal scenario … would be to deploy the new Moderna bivalent vaccine – just give it to everybody eligible for a booster and just have one vaccine that everyone gets,” he said. “It’s just that we don’t really know yet whether we can match supply and demand to do that.”

But Harnden told the Guardian that the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine still had an important role to play in tackling Covid worldwide, noting that the UK had donated doses to the Covax global vaccine-sharing scheme.

“[The jab] is a very effective vaccine that doesn’t have the same storage and transport issues that the mRNA vaccines have. So [it] is a very good vaccine for developing world where the temperature requirements can be more problematic,” he said. “JCVI are making recommendations on the choice of vaccines in the context of UK supply.”