Covid vaccine: Why does AstraZeneca make so many unforced errors?

Covid vaccine: Why does AstraZeneca make so many unforced errors?

Photographer: BEN STANSALL / AFP

Why is AstraZeneca Plc making so many direct errors in its attempt to distribute billions of doses of Covid vaccine around the world at minimal cost? Once the pandemic is under control, the Anglo-Swedish drug maker should examine if there is a problem with the way it makes its decisions.

AstraZeneca agreed in April to help develop, manufacture and distribute the University of Oxford jab against Covid-19. He had no activity in vaccines: the goal was to contribute his resources to the fight against the pandemic on a non-profit basis. These strengths include a global network and established capabilities in conducting large clinical trials. The result is millions of jabs administered in a year. However, lack of vaccine expertise, overconfidence in what the company could accomplish, and naivety about the politics of the task cannot be ruled out.

One problem has been the communication of scientific results. November data from trials in the UK and Brazil created confusion over efficacy. This week, there were doubts about a subsequent lawsuit in the United States and South America that was supposed to clear up the matter. AstraZeneca announced on Monday the interim results of the US study indicating that the Oxford jab was 79% effective in preventing symptomatic Covid-19. Yet an independent panel that participated in the trial questioned whether the findings were reliable because the analysis did not include the most recent data.

It is not controversial to release the findings of an interim analysis up to a point, in this case on February 17. AstraZeneca has since said that including the most recent data lowers the efficiency to 76%. The difference is minimal. It remains to be seen whether this latest confusion could have been avoided thanks to better liaison with American supervisors before the first announcement.

The second problem concerns excessive optimism in its ability to deliver doses. Vaccines are difficult to manufacture, as AstraZeneca finds. The productivity of identical factories can vary for no obvious reason, according to analysts at UBS Group AG. As a result, the drug manufacturer aims to provide just 100 million doses to the EU in the first half of 2021, out of 400 million ordered.

AstraZeneca’s supply agreements did not prove helpful in handling this scenario. His contract with the EU may allow preferential treatment to be given to an earlier deal with the UK, but that does not resolve the vaccine trade war that has erupted. Either AstraZeneca was naive to think the fine print was about a rare offer, or it didn’t think the situation would arise in the first place.


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