The two sides of AstraZeneca’s vaccine ‘miracle’

By the autumn of 2021, the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab had been quietly shelved with more than 90 per cent of jabs by then provided by Pfizer. AstraZeneca had been unable to identify the cause of the clots and the Government bought its Covid vaccines for the next year’s rollout from rivals. In 2021, AstraZeneca had supplied almost 50 million doses. But by November 2022, out of 40.5 million people who had received a third dose, just 58,700 came from AstraZeneca. 

The drug company is bound by ongoing legal action and declines to be drawn on what is a highly emotive case. A spokesman says: “Our sympathy goes out to anyone who has lost loved ones or reported health problems. Patient safety is our highest priority and regulatory authorities have clear and stringent standards to ensure the safe use of all medicines, including vaccines.

“From the body of evidence in clinical trials and real-world data, the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine has continuously been shown to have an acceptable safety profile and regulators around the world consistently state that the benefits of vaccination outweigh the risks of extremely rare potential side effects.”

The company recognises the potential damage caused to its reputation by the legal action. It feels hard done by. It was the Government that pushed for a vaccine rollout at speed and that encouraged the population to get jabbed, not just to reduce symptoms but for the greater good of the whole of society. In reality, the evidence remains unclear about the extent to which any of the vaccines stopped transmission (Experts suggest that the Covid vaccines prevented transmission for around 70 days after the jab).

As AstraZeneca stresses, this was a vaccine first developed at Oxford and which it then did its duty and made available on a huge industrial scale to the UK and the rest of the world. Millions of lives were saved but that benefit, the cheers at Wimbledon, the gongs for the scientists, have all gone to Oxford. The stinging criticism has been reserved for AstraZeneca while in the background the Government keeps its distance and its counsel. 

Even though it encouraged AstraZeneca, based in Cambridge, to enter into the deal – the claim is Boris Johnson’s administration wanted the vaccine to be an all-British affair – ministers have so far refused to intervene. They could increase the Government’s own compensation deal or else step in now and settle the class action being brought against AstraZeneca. The sums are not huge, maybe as much as £100m in total compensation. But with every day the Government refuses to intervene, the legal bills go up while the victims get nothing.

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