Vaccine reality check: Oxford admits to error

Astra and Oxford’s admission of a ‘manufacturing error’ which led them to make an exaggerated claim of the efficacy of their vaccine has raised serious doubts, which have rattled both scientists and investors.

Astra and Oxford had said their vaccine was 90% effective when a half-dose was given before a full-dose booster, and that two full doses showed an efficacy of 62%. But the head of the US vaccine program known as ‘Operation Warp Speed’ said the next day that the dose showing the higher level of effectiveness was tested in a younger population, and that the half-dose was given to some people because of an error in the quantity of vaccine put into some vials. All these details were missing in Astra's original statement.

The initial claims by Oxford had raised hopes that there was finally light at the end of the pandemic tunnel, but the fresh revelations have induced a reality check as the data of the vaccine manufacturers cannot be taken at face value.

Also, the true efficacy of a vaccine will only be known when people are actually inoculated.

Result: Astra shares fell as questions mounted about whether the regulator will indeed clear the vaccine. More important, the admission of error, which suggests the data in public domain did not reflect the success rate among older people has eroded public confidence.

In an interview on Wednesday, Menelas Pangalos, the AstraZeneca executive in charge of much of the company’s research and development, defended the company’s handling of the testing and its public disclosures. He said the error in the dosage was made by a contractor, and that, once it was discovered, regulators were immediately notified and signed off on the plan to continue testing the vaccine in different doses. AstraZeneca was the third company this month to report encouraging early results on a coronavirus vaccine candidate.

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