This week, again, the British Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine made headlines around the world. The drug whose effectiveness has been constantly questioned, which has also failed to comply with its delivery commitments, and which has even led several countries to want to activate the arbitration mechanism in Brussels, was momentarily removed from the vaccination scheme in several countries from Europe after it was associated with fatal side effects.
How could the first vaccine project that gave hope to a world that woke up to a pandemic a year ago fall into such a hole of mistrust? We tell you his story in this story that mixes science, politics, geopolitics and commercialism.
This is how the vaccine was born
The history of this vaccine begins at the University of Oxford, a British university with a history of several centuries.
Its exact founding date is not certain, but according to its website the first records date from 1096, which makes it, until proven otherwise, the second oldest university in the world. To get an idea, let's calculate that it is contemporary with the end of the Viking era and that Columbus arrived in America 396 years later.
From this house of studies, 12 saints, 46 Nobel Prize winners, 50 Olympic medalists have come out, and among its contemporary notable students we can name Stephen Hawking, Oscar Wilde and Indira Gandhi.
The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine today was born as a project within its walls, specifically at the Jenner Institute, a vaccine research center associated with the university dating from 2005. It is named after the English physician Edward Jenner (1749-1823), contributor to the development of the smallpox vaccine. This laboratory has experience in the development of immunizing drugs against malaria, tuberculosis, Ebola and MERS.
Months before COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, the Jenner Institute began working on a vaccine, taking into account that the disease was spreading throughout the world. As such, they got down to work in January 2020 and in March they already began to summon people who wanted to undergo the first trials, to inoculate it on April 30 to the first group of test subjects.
From the point of view of its scientific architecture, the vaccine was a double-dose immunization, with a recombinant viral vector, that is, it uses a virus as the means of delivery. In this case, it is a weakened version of the chimpanzee common cold virus that encodes instructions for making new coronavirus proteins, generating an immune response in the body, and preventing infection. In simple words, like most vaccines, another similar virus makes the body believe that it has already had the disease, so it develops its antibodies against reinfection.
AstraZeneca enters the picture
The development of this vaccine was endorsed discursively and financially by the British government, but in the same month of April, on the 30th, Oxford announced its association with the large transnational pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca. The company, which dates back to 1913, although it has existed under its current name since 1999, is the merger of the Swedish laboratory Astra AB and the British pharmaceutical company Zeneca Group. Its leader is the Swedish magnate Leif Johansson, the sixth richest person in his country according to Forbes.
This company entered photography to handle the mass production and distribution of the vaccine through its extensive network of laboratories globally. Let's say it was going to take care of its administrative work and its representation, although AstraZeneca has always maintained that it will not receive profits from the vaccine until the WHO lifts the declaration of pandemic.
After the association, the vaccine ended up bearing the scientific name AZD1222 or ChAdOx1 nCoV-19, and raised such hope that even Donald Trump offered 1,2 billion dollars to continue its development (which never materialized).
In parallel, laboratories from other parts of the world such as Pfizer, Moderna and Gamaleya were getting on the train of the race for the vaccine.
Problems with the Oxford-AstraZeneca began in May when some test subjects in England mistakenly received half the dose, but that did not stop testing from continuing consistently in Brazil, South Africa and the United States.
In September human trials were suspended worldwide after a suspected adverse reaction in a British volunteer. Neither AstraZeneca nor Oxford officially announced the pause that within hours was leaked to the press and a small controversy ensues, but finally the team obtains authorization to continue the trials in the United States and the United Kingdom.
8th of December The first published scientific work on the results of the tests appears in The Lancet magazine where its safety and efficiency is guaranteed in a margin that goes from 61% to 90%, depending on the groups.
The study also reveals several of the vaccine's financiers, including the British government and the AstraZeneca company; Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, from the owners of Microsoft; in addition to the Lemann Foundation and the Brava and Telles Foundation, of two Brazilian magnates who are partners with each other, recognized by Forbes as two of the richest men in the world. The first, the powerful banker and brewer Jorge Paulo Lemann, and the second Carlos Alberto Sicupira, also a brewer and partner of Warren Bufett at Burger King and Heinz. People not without controversy, as is usual in billionaires.
Continuing with the story, the AstraZeneca project had already lost the vaccine race because by that time others such as Sputnik V and Pfizer had already done the same, but it still emerged as a viable immunization option in a world eager for fast and efficient exits to the pandemic situation. In fact, his emergency approval had already been requested in India and on December 30 he finally got approval in his home country.
That same month, doubts began regarding its efficacy and safety, and several pharmaceutical spokesmen questioned the shielding of this drug. Weeks later the rain of doubts, complaints and disappointments would begin. In short, the vaccine has not had a single day of peace.
Much do about nothing
The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine suffers from confidence problems since before day 1, because, as we already reported, it showed problems from its testing phase. A second obstacle had to be faced when it was faced with its low effectiveness - practically only 50% - in people over 55 years of age, precisely the most vulnerable group in the context of the coronavirus, in addition to its practically null action against new strains of the virus, the South African for example.
On the other hand, it already has a long history of administrative problems. Since January when it announced that it would not be able to meet the quotas promised with the European Union, delivery delays have escalated, so much so that last week Italy decided - based on recent European regulations - to expropriate a batch of the firm's vaccines. produced in its territory that were already ready to be exported to Australia.
Originally, AstraZeneca was to deliver to Europe, in the first quarter of the year, 90 million vaccines, which were later reduced to 40 million; But to date, Member States have received only 15,8 million doses, of which 8,6 million have been injected so far, according to data from the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).
The delays have caused the European Commission to propose the activation of the Brussels problem arbitration mechanism to solve the supply issue with the pharmaceutical company and determine once and for all if it will be able to deliver what it promised, which is also already paid for.
But that is nothing compared to the subsequent and escalating scandal: several deaths associated with alleged side effects of the drug.
And it is that, although conclusive scientific evidence has not yet been reached, dozens of cases of thrombus have been presented in European patients recently inoculated with the virus, including at least seven deceased people. It is difficult to specify the exact amount because the hegemonic press has tried to qualify the events on the ground that the relationship between the appearance of blood clots with the vaccine has not been officially recognized, and that it is also proportionally a very low figure after a giant economic power.
The situation is revealed when 7 million people in the European Union have already been vaccinated with this vaccine, 11 million more in the United Kingdom, and in total more than 20 million worldwide. As of March 8, AstraZeneca itself had reported 15 cases of deep vein thrombosis in the legs and 22 of pulmonary embolism among those vaccinated from the EU and the UK. Music to the ears of the anti-vaccine groups.
When in doubt, as of March 11, the vaccine was suspended in Europe for 15 days later to resume the immunization schedule, arguing that its benefits are greater than its risk. In the almost verbatim words of several of the authorized spokespersons: it is easier to die from coronavirus than from vaccine-associated thrombosis; so the "experts" recommend the lesser evil.
"The number of thrombotic events reported among the vaccinated population is lower than expected in the general population, as observed by the committee," so "there is no increase in the global risk of thrombi. However, there are still certain uncertainties; we have seen some very rare cases describing a combination of thrombosis, thrombocytopenia and hemorrhages, in some cases beginning with small thrombi between 7 and 14 days after vaccination, a condition known as disseminated intravascular coagulation. Also a few cases of cerebral sinus thrombosis. These conditions are related to thrombocytopenia and there is still not enough scientific evidence to determine if these events are related to the vaccine, although they are very rare, the PRAC will continue to investigate it, "said the director of the Pharmacovigilance Committee of Europe, Sabine Straus. I mean, yes but no but yes.
Similar cases of fatal adverse reactions have not occurred, or at least have not been reported, in people who have received needle sticks with the other vaccines. Only one case has been documented last January in the United States of a doctor who died in Florida due to a drastic reduction in platelets, a condition that ended in a brain hemorrhage, after receiving the immunization from Pfizer.
America always charitable
It is good to show that, to date, the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine has been approved in 70 countries around the world, including Canada, Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Colombia, El Salvador, Mexico, French Guyana, the Dominican Republic and several Caribbean islands such as the Bahamas and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.
In fact, this is the flagship vaccine that the United Nations' Covax initiative intends to send to countries in the region and in general to “third world” territories.
But with the United States there is a particular case. The country has not approved the drug because it awaits conclusive evidence of its effectiveness and safety in its 32 test subjects. Meanwhile, it has hundreds of millions of doses in storage pending a decision, and AstraZeneca still owes it 50 million more vaccines promised by the end of April.
Let us remember that the United States has become the great global hoarder of vaccines thanks to its "America first" policy according to which it will take care of guaranteeing one hundred percent dose for its population at whatever cost.
But very coincidentally, at the same time that Europe began to debate the safety of the drug product, the Joe Biden administration reported that they were studying donating (or lending) these vaccines to Mexico and perhaps Canada, as a solidarity action. I don't know, Rick.
On the other hand, Venezuela, as a Solomonic measure, decided not to authorize the use of this vaccine in the national territory due to the risks that, although they have not been thoroughly studied, are clearly present.
How could a vaccine formulated in the same classrooms fall out of favor where some of the most prestigious scientists in the West worked? It is a mystery that history will surely unravel.
No vaccine, but contraceptives yes
It was striking that the use of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine was suspended in the event of a few dozen cases of thrombi when it is normalized that another type of drug annually causes the same side effect, but in one out of every thousand people: contraceptive pills.
Since their launch in the 70s, hormonal pills for birth control in women have been involved in controversy first because of the fatal effects of their tests in Central America, Asia and Africa (there is much of this story in several Netflix documentaries ), and then by its overwhelming never solved side effects that in addition to thrombosis include depression, migraine and hormonal disorders.
In this case, it should be noted that the cases of thrombosis associated with the vaccine that caused worldwide alarm are 0,0006%. As far as the pill is concerned, this condition is listed as a "rare" effect and can affect up to 1 in 1.000 patients. But no one has ever expressed a strong enough concern to review its formulation or request that its use be discontinued.
It is a policy of "double standards", denounced the French Association of Victims of Pulmonary Embolism and Cerebral Vascular Accident, among other organizations that have addressed the issue. This was surprised "by the indifference with which thousands of women victims of thrombosis and embolism are treated due to their contraception in France and Europe", echoing numerous similar messages published in recent days on social networks, France24 reported .
It is another case of how the medical industry is another of the disputed territories to face with a gender perspective.