It is worth taking a moment to stand back and applaud Sarah Gilbert and the Oxford vaccine team’s achievement. The data released this evening by Public Health England shows that a single dose of both the Oxford /AstraZeneca vaccine and the Pfizer vaccine cuts the risk of hospitalisation by 80 per cent in the over-80s, the most vulnerable group. It also suggests that the Oxford one, despite its messy trial data, is slightly more effective than the Pfizer vaccine in preventing symptomatic infection among the over-70s.
The efficacy of the Oxford vaccine has completely changed the outlook for the UK. This country has enough doses of it ordered to cover everyone, it really is the workhorse of the immunisation programme, and these statistics suggest that the UK is definitively on its way out of lockdown.
The Oxford vaccine will also, I suspect, change how the UK is viewed around the world. To date, the UK has been a country with a very high death toll which has had one of the worst Covid falls in economic growth. The success of the Oxford vaccine tells a very different story about this country, it is a reminder of the huge strength of our scientific base and shows the British state in a more positive light than much of the rest of this crisis. As Katy Balls says, much of the EU criticism of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine looks particularly foolish in the light of today’s news.
The efficacy of the Oxford vaccine is also great news for the developing world. AstraZeneca is producing it on a not-for-profit basis and will license it to anyone who wants it, making it far more affordable than either Moderna or Pfizer. If the world really is to be vaccinated against Covid, the vaccine developed by Gilbert and her team will have done much of the heavy lifting. Rarely has so much been owed by so many to so few.