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Coronavirus update: AstraZeneca expects Phase 3 results soon; WHO warns against vaccine nationalism

AstraZeneca (AZN) anticipates having Phase 3 trial results by the end of March, potentially giving the U.S. another vaccine option in coming months.

But in order to do so, the company needs to smooth over its delivery delays with current commitments. CEO Pascal Soriot said during an earnings call Thursday the company is ramping up its production of vaccines in coming months, targeting output of 200 million doses per month starting in April. The annual target for total doses is around 3 billion.

The company is currently producing 100 million doses per month globally, and has faced several hurdles in output, including an issue with a manufacturing plant in Belgium.

It has also faced some concerns over the vaccine’s impact on seniors, with some European states opting to only allow the vaccine in their populations under 65 years. The World Health Organization defended AstraZeneca’s vaccine recently, saying it is safe for the elderly.

And the company has also already begun working on tweaking the vaccine to address troublesome variants, like the South Africa strain (B.1.351). Executive vice president Mene Pangalos said during the earnings call he anticipates shots in arms by fall.

AstraZeneca’s two-shot dose has also recently been found to be effective with longer intervals between each shot, which can help extend supply of the vaccine. The WHO recently recommended an eight- to 12-week interval between shots.

Global vaccine inequity

Meanwhile, there are global concerns over a lack of equity in vaccination administration.

In a joint statement Wednesday, the WHO and UNICEF said that of the 128 million vaccine doses administered so far, more than three quarters of them have occurred in only 10 largely high-income countries that comprise 60% of the global GDP.

The cost is human lives, and gives the virus more opportunity to mutate and evade vaccines, “and will undermine a global economic recovery,” according to the statement.

A study by Johns Hopkins University researchers, published in the British Medical Journal in December, noted that most high-income countries have access to the Western-developed vaccines, while low- and middle-income countries were left to choose between Russian and Chinese vaccines, in addition to those from AstraZeneca and Novavax (NVAX) through the WHO’s COVAX program.

Lower income countries are now getting access to more vaccines. “Though earlier deals were agreed bilaterally between vaccine companies and high income countries, recent purchases have focused more on low and middle income countries,” the authors wrote.

The U.S. is one of those rich global players, though experts have widely criticized its chaotic vaccine rollout, included the wasting of unused doses. The Lancet recently criticized the nation for it’s bungled bungled response to the pandemic under former President Donald Trump.

“The global COVID-19 pandemic has had a disproportionate effect on the USA, with more than 26 million diagnosed cases and over 450 000 deaths as of early February, 2021, about 40% of which could have been averted had the US death rate mirrored the weighted average of the other G7 nations,” according to the article.

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