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vaccine hope Four potential Covid-19 jabs could increase chance of widespread vaccination by spring, expert says

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File photo dated 05/10/09 of a nurse preparing to give a patient a vaccine. The timetable for developing and approving a Covid vaccine has been condensed due to the coronavirus crisis.

File photo dated 05/10/09 of a nurse preparing to give a patient a vaccine. The timetable for developing and approving a Covid vaccine has been condensed due to the coronavirus crisis.

File photo dated 05/10/09 of a nurse preparing to give a patient a vaccine. The timetable for developing and approving a Covid vaccine has been condensed due to the coronavirus crisis.

The availability of potentially four Covid-19 vaccines in the coming months increases the chance of more widespread vaccination by spring, an expert has said.

This morning, Oxford/AstraZeneca announced that trials have shown its vaccine is up to 90pc effective if given in two doses.

Ireland may be in line for three to four million doses of the Oxford jab as the makers have a deal with the European Commission for 300 million doses to be shared among member states.

There is an option for up to 400 million, which could add another million doses for Ireland based on population.

Speaking today, Prof Luke O’Neill, an expert in immunology from Trinity College, said another drug company, Johnson and Johnson, is also due to announce results, meaning there was the possibility of four vaccines – with Pfizer and Moderna the other two.

He said that once high-risk groups are vaccinated, more widespread availability may be possible from March depending on how many doses the companies can produce.

“If Johnson and Johnson come in and they are making three billion (doses), it will push it forward,” he told the Pat Kenny Show on Newstalk.

He cautioned, however, that the scientific data around the vaccines still has to be published.

AstraZeneca and Oxford University announced today that their jab is effective in preventing many people getting ill and has been shown to work in different age groups, including the elderly.

If it is given approval, the jab could be rolled out from December, with the bulk of vaccinations in the new year.

One of the dosing patterns used by the scientists suggested 90pc effectiveness if one half dose is given, followed by a further full dose. Another dosing pattern showed 62pc efficacy when one full dose is given followed by another full dose.

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The combined analysis from both dosing regimes resulted in an average efficacy of 70.4pc.

Irishman Professor Adrian Hill, director of the Jenner Institute, is among the scientists behind the vaccine.

Professor Andrew Pollard, chief investigator of the Oxford Vaccine Trial at Oxford, said: “These findings show that we have an effective vaccine that will save many lives.

“Excitingly, we’ve found that one of our dosing regimens may be around 90pc effective and, if this dosing regime is used, more people could be vaccinated with planned vaccine supply.”

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme about the 90pc finding, he added: “There is just a hint in the data at the moment that those who got that regime with higher protection, there is a suggestion that it was also able to reduce asymptomatic infection.

“If that is right, we might be able to halt the virus in its tracks and stop transmitting between people.”

Pascal Soriot, chief executive officer at AstraZeneca, said the news was an “important milestone” in the fight against the pandemic.

He added: “This vaccine’s efficacy and safety confirm that it will be highly effective against Covid-19 and will have an immediate impact on this public health emergency.

“Furthermore, 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.”

Sarah Gilbert, professor of vaccinology at the University of Oxford, said the announcement took everyone a step closer to a time when vaccines can be used to bring an “end to the devastation” caused by Covid-19.

“We will continue to work to provide the detailed information to regulators,” she said.

“It has been a privilege to be part of this multinational effort which will reap benefits for the whole world.”

The UK has placed orders for 100 million doses of the Oxford vaccine – enough to vaccinate most of the population – with rollout expected in the coming weeks if the jab is approved.

It also has orders for 40 million doses of the jab from Pfizer and BioNTech, which has been shown to be 95pc effective.

The Oxford Vaccine Group is led by Irishman Prof Adrian Hill.

Ireland is also in line for more than three million doses of a potential vaccine from Pfizer and 1.6 million from the other contender, Moderna.

The three race leaders have either submitted applications for regulatory approval or are due to do so. Pfizer has applied to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for emergency authorisation.

It comes as the high-level taskforce whose job it is to plan the rollout of the vaccine here meets today for its first formal session.

The results from the Oxford and AstraZeneca trial showed that the regime where one half dose was given followed by a full dose at least one month later involved 2,741 people. This was the 90pc finding.

The other dosing regime, involving 8,895 people, showed 62pc efficacy when given as two full doses at least one month apart.

Peter Horby, professor of emerging infectious diseases and global health at the University of Oxford, tweeted: “Oxford jab is far cheaper, and is easier to store and get to every corner of the world than the other two.”

He said the vaccine could be stored in a fridge rather than the –70C to –80C needed for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

He added: “This is very welcome news, we can clearly see the end of tunnel now.

“There were no Covid hospitalisations or deaths in people who got the Oxford vaccine.

“Although no serious reactions were reported in people who got the Oxford vaccine, we do need to await the full safety data and to monitor safety of all vaccines carefully if and when they are rolled out.

“The reported efficacy of 70pc is an interim measure and, as more data accrue, we will get a better idea of the protection it affords.

“Importantly, from what we have heard the vaccine seems to prevent infection, not just disease. This is important as the vaccine could reduce the spread of the virus as well as protect the vulnerable from severe disease.”

Professor Azra Ghani, chair in infectious disease epidemiology at Imperial College London, said: “Once again we are waking up on a Monday morning to further good news about a Covid-19 vaccine.

"The results from this trial of the Oxford/AZ vaccine are highly encouraging, demonstrating significant efficacy.

“A particular strength of this vaccine is that it can be stored in a fridge; this means that it can be distributed around the world using existing delivery mechanisms.

“This could therefore have a truly significant impact across the globe and enable an end to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Of course much will be made of the difference in overall efficacy between this vaccine (70pc) and the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines (95pc).

“However, it is encouraging to see that, in a sub-analysis, a fractional dosing schedule in which the first dose was administered at a lower level than the second resulted in higher efficacy and gave results comparable to the other vaccines (90pc).”

Dr Michael Head, senior research fellow in global health at the University of Southampton, said: “It’s not yet fully clear why a half dose and then a full dose was potentially more protective, but if the final results continue to show this pattern of around 90pc effectiveness, this would allow greater vaccine supply not just in the UK but also globally.”

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