Only one cheer for AstraZeneca

It’s becoming clear that the AstraZeneca (AZ) vaccine is second rate in comparison with certain other technologies, and in particular the Pfizer/BioNTech version. A recent peer reviewed study has shown that the Pfizer version has shown 94% effectiveness.

AZ were on the back foot from the outset, because the medical trials showed only a 62% effectiveness for their vaccine. Whereas the Pfizer vaccine is ineffective in 6 out of every hundred injected, 38 people taking the AZ vaccine will be at risk – more than 6 times as many.

Even this inferior performance was based on a second jab about 4 weeks after the first; but the UK government decided to take a jump into the unknown by extending that gap to 3 months, based on both guesswork and some unpublished data. This was, as the US regulator disbelievingly noted, ‘making it up as they went along’. Pfizer were alarmed enough to issue a statement to say they had no data to determine whether that strategy would be effective or not. Clearly the government believed it knew better than the vaccine’s inventors ; now there’s confidence for you.

The UK approach was based on a (valid) statistical reasoning that by extending the second dose period, more people would be vaccinated because of the limited supplied of vaccine. This was fine for the overall numbers, but the effect at an individual level was not potentially negative and not possible to assess.

These uncertainties were further compounded from the get go because AstraZeneca did not include any meaningful tests of the most at risk cohort, being those over 70. In other words, there was no data to support it having any effect, merely opinions that what worked in the sprightly goose would also work on the geriatric gander.

It’s too early to tell whether the reductions in infections as at this time (25 Feb 21) have been achieved primarily because of the lock down, or because of the vaccination of the first groupings at risk. More will data emerge as the personal mixing restrictions are loosened as Q1/21 progresses.

Boris and Co have inevitably been talking up this mediocre second rate product and praising the UK’s “world beating” science and research capability. It’s all rather dismal. Grumpy drew a short straw and got the AstraZeneca jab (damn) but the bottom line is that this really is one of those situations where something really is better than nothing, especially when ‘nothing’ is a iron lung then a body bag.