The drug giant AstraZeneca said Thursday that it has found partners to manufacture and distribute 2 billion doses of the experimental Covid-19 vaccine created by Oxford University, inking a series of deals with non-government organizations and another manufacturer.
AstraZeneca said that CEPI and Gavi, public-private partnerships aimed at developing and distributing vaccines, would spend $750 million to manufacture and make available 300 million doses of the vaccine to distribute by the end of the year — assuming the vaccine is shown to be safe and effective. It also reached a licensing agreement with SII, previously known as the Serum Institute of India, to supply 1 billion doses of the vaccine to low- and middle-income countries. SII committed to provide 400 million doses before the end of 2020.
AstraZeneca had previously said that it plans to ship 100 million doses to the United Kingdom and 300 million to the U.S.
“We believe we can get the vaccine to hundreds of millions of people around the world, importantly including those in the countries with the lowest income,” Pascal Soriot, AstraZeneca’s CEO, told a group of reporters on a webcast. “So our goal is really to not leave anybody behind.”
AstraZeneca signed on to develop and distribute the Oxford University vaccine on April 30. But efficacy data are not expected before August, after large trials of tens of thousands of patients are run to show if the vaccine prevents infections.
When asked if he was “bullish” on the vaccine’s prospects, Soriot said that was not the right word. “When you have something like this, with this pandemic and the tremendous impact it has on people, the economy, et cetera, you can’t second-guess what’s going to happen, you can’t spend your time figuring out if it will work or not work,” he said. “You just have to commit.”
Soriot declined to give specific odds on whether this vaccine would work, though he said it was promising, and said that he hoped the world would have multiple vaccines against Covid-19, noting the ongoing efforts from Moderna, Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson.
If the vaccine were to fail to be effective, Soriot said, it is possible that the manufacturing capacity that is being built might be used to make another, similar Covid-19 vaccine.
The current effort is the first commitment made by the Access to Covid-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator, a global mechanism created by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the World Health Organization, and other groups. The Gates Foundation also gives substantial funding to both CEPI, which is short for the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, and Gavi.
Proving a vaccine is effective and manufacturing enough of it will only be the first challenges in making it widely available.
“Just solving the problem of having a vaccine doesn’t result in it being delivered,” said Richard Hatchett, CEPI’s CEO. “And I think that the challenge of contemplating vaccinating hundreds of millions or billions of people globally over the next one to two to three years, however long it takes, is going to be a massive challenge.”
Different vaccines will require different amounts of refrigeration. There is, Hatchett noted, a global glass shortage that means that vaccines will be distributed in multi-dose, not single-dose, vials. The goal of beginning manufacturing now, he said, is to work out some of those problems ahead of time, Hatchett said.
Correction: A previous version said incorrectly listed the chairs of the Access to Covid-19 Tools Accelerator based on an AstraZeneca press release.