When the University of Oxford developed a vaccine that was effective against COVID-19, ensuring that it could be rolled out globally and in perpetuity for low- and middle-income countries was of paramount importance.
The University believes that this has been – and continues to be – achieved through our partnership with AstraZeneca, with over 3 billion doses made available for use in 183 countries.
As a result of this commitment to ensuring global and equitable access, the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine saved 6.3 million lives in the first year of the global vaccine rollout – the most out of all the vaccines in circulation at the time.
Airfinity, which conducted this analysis, further said that the vaccine may have saved the most lives before it first went to older age groups in high income countries and nations with less robust health care systems.
An expert review of data from 79 real-world studies lends further credence to the wide-ranging impact of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, revealing that it provided equally effective and high protection against hospitalisation and death as mRNA COVID-19 vaccines.
Development of the vaccine was an intricate and complex process – and covering every stage would take too long to outline here. However, one critically important stage was having a robust methodology in place to rapidly ramp up manufacturing capabilities.
As Dr Adam Ritchie, Senior Vaccine Programme Manager at the Jenner Institute, says:
‘One of the reasons for the impact of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine was the focus on the whole vaccine development process from day one. We knew that during a pandemic you didn’t just need a vaccine that worked, but also a method for making billions of doses that could be shared with manufacturers around the world.
‘We started developing this method and the network to deliver it from February 2020, and AstraZeneca kept expanding that network from May 2020. The reason why this vaccine has saved so many lives can be found in the dozens of locations it was made and its use in more countries than any other.’
Another key moment in the process was when the multinational clinical trials delivered promising results demonstrating the vaccine’s efficacy. However, setting these up in multiple sites worldwide and at very short notice required a great team effort globally.
As Dr Sagida Bibi, Senior Postdoctoral Researcher at the Oxford Vaccine Group, says:
‘The trial was unprecedented in many aspects; the number of participants we were aiming to recruit – almost 11,000 within a short period of time and across 19 sites in the UK. Shortly after, we had to carry out a similar level of recruitment in Brazil – across six sites.
‘The real challenge came from managing the logistics of shipping the samples to different labs across the world to determine the vaccine’s efficacy.
‘It was a huge team effort and maybe at times it seemed impossible to achieve what we did, but we now have a vaccine that has reached the poorest people across the world and prevented millions of deaths – this real world impact leaves the whole team with a great feeling of pride.’
Dr Maheshi Ramasamy, Senior Clinical Researcher at the Oxford Vaccine Group, adds: ‘Planning and conducting the trials in the middle of a pandemic when we couldn’t even meet the teams we were working with was extremely challenging. But it was inspiring to see how everyone in all our sites in the UK, Kenya, South Africa and Brazil worked together to deliver these trials at pace while maintaining the best standards of scientific practice.
‘As a clinician, I have seen first-hand the real-world impact of COVID-19 vaccines in the hospitals – reducing the numbers of people dying of this awful disease. It is humbling to reflect that our team’s hard work has contributed to saving 6.3 million lives around the world.’
Prof Sue Ann Costa Clemens is the director of the Oxford Vaccine Group for Latin America and managed the clinical trials in Brazil. She says:
'To have had the opportunity to lead the development of a COVID-19 vaccine in Brazil was a lifetime gift but also a huge responsibility and many unprecedented obstacles to overcome. The world had a shortage of supplies needed for the trials that had to be conducted with speed and quality. Investigational sites have faced lack of fridges for the vaccines and blood samples and the shipment of the goods was interrupted. Processes and site infrastructure had to be redesigned to follow the challenges of the pandemic.
'As a medical doctor and public health professional, saving lives is our mission and we happily could contribute to save millions of lives. But the mission continues, we keep generating quality evidence for future paths on COVID-19 immunization and public health policy.'