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The AstraZeneca vaccine has been approved by 4 countries— when will it come to the U.S.?

mexico approves astrazeneca vaccine
Photo via VV Nincic/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The AstraZeneca vaccine has been approved for use in Mexico to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, making it the fourth nation to approve the vaccine and opening the door to production and distribution throughout Latin America—even with indications that the U.S. may not approve the AstraZeneca vaccine before April. 

According to the New York Times, “AstraZeneca said in August it would work with the Mexican and Argentine governments to produce 150 million initial doses for distribution across Latin America, and later produce at least 400 million doses for the region.” 

The vaccine, developed in coordination with Oxford University in England, was previously approved for use in the United Kingdom and Argentina, and India announced its approval on Jan. 3. The AstraZeneca vaccine has less efficacy than either the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, with 62% efficacy compared to 95% for the two vaccines approved for U.S. use. 

But it does have some advantages that position it to be the predominant coronavirus vaccine around the world, especially in developing nations. The vaccine only costs $3-4 a dose, making it less expensive than the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. And unlike those two, the AstraZeneca vaccine can be stored safely with normal refrigeration for six months, not requiring the ultra-cold temperatures that the Pfizer and Moderna versions require. 

Mexico has reported nearly 1.5 million infections and more than 127,000 deaths during the pandemic; according to the New York Times, that places it 13th and fourth among nations, respectively. 

Moncef Slaoui, who heads the Operation Warp Speed effort to get Americans vaccines, noted in late December that the AstraZeneca vaccine wouldn’t likely be approved for use in the U.S. before April. As Politico wrote, there are “lingering questions about its effectiveness in certain groups.” 

The article explained Slaoui’s perspective: “While the AstraZeneca vaccine appears very effective against severe disease, its efficacy among elderly people is ‘effectively unknown’ because few older people were enrolled early in the trial. He said that remains his biggest question about the company’s shot, given the virus’ impact on elderly people.” 

AstraZeneca reported that its vaccine was up to 90% effective in some trials in November, with an initial half-dose followed by a full dose appearing more effective than two full doses. 

According to Politico, Slaoui questioned this alternate dosing strategy. He said it’s possible a booster shot can be more effective when administered months later, but he said that the U.K. decision was based on theory rather than evidence. “It’s important, I think, to use the vaccine based on how you studied it,” he said.

However, Slaoui is currently considering an alternate dosing strategy for an already-approved vaccine: Namely, a half dose vaccine for Moderna to help expedite vaccinations in the U.S., which the Food and Drug Administration will be meeting about during the first week of January.  

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Sources: New York Times, Politico


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