AstraZeneca withdraws Covid-19 vaccine, citing low demand

AstraZeneca withdraws Covid-19 vaccine, citing low demand

AstraZeneca is withdrawing its highly successful coronavirus vaccine, citing the availability of a large number of new injections which has caused a drop in demand.

The vaccine — called Vaxzevria and developed in collaboration with the University of Oxford — has become one of the main Covid-19 vaccines worldwide, with more than 3 billion doses supplied since the first one was administered in the United Kingdom on January 4, 2021.

But the vaccine has not generated revenue for AstraZeneca since April 2023, the company said. It has not been used in the United Kingdom for some time.

“Given that various, variants of the Covid-19 vaccine have been … developed, there is a surplus of updated vaccines available. This has caused a drop in demand for Vaxzevria, which is no longer manufactured or supplied,” he said in a statement shared with CNN Wednesday.

“Therefore, AstraZeneca has taken the decision to initiate the withdrawal of the marketing authorization for Vaxzevria in Europe,” he added.

In a notice on its website, the European Medicines Agency also announced the withdrawal, which means that Vaxzevria is no longer allowed to be marketed or sold in European Union countries.

AstraZeneca said it would work with regulators in other countries to “coordinate on a clear path forward,” including withdrawing marketing authorizations for vaccines for which no future commercial demand is expected.

“We are extremely proud of the role that Vaxzevria is playing… Our efforts have been recognized by governments around the world and are widely regarded as a critical component of ending the global pandemic,” AstraZeneca said.

Dr Michael Head, senior research fellow in global health at the University of Southampton in England, said the likely main reason for the withdrawal was the fact that other Covid vaccines, including messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna, were “essentially better products .”

The newer mRNA vaccine uses genetic material to direct cells to make the coronavirus spike protein, which in turn causes the body to create antibodies to fight the actual Covid infection. AstraZeneca’s Covid hit uses a common cold virus in chimpanzees as a viral vector to carry the spike protein from the coronavirus into cells.

“AstraZeneca is very good, but the mRNA product… is better,” Chief said. “It has higher efficacy and the mRNA platform is more adaptable to the latest Covid variants. As such, they form an important part of most countries’ long-term strategies.”

The rocky road to pandemic success
The UK-based pharmaceutical firm, known for its popular cancer drugs, entered the Covid-19 crisis with little experience developing vaccines. And Vaxzevria’s success is far from guaranteed.

Shortly after the launch, the company came under fire from policymakers and health officials in Europe and the United States for a variety of mistakes, including errors during clinical trials and omitting important information from public statements. Production delays also hurt relations with EU leaders.

In April 2021, information about the vaccine was updated by medicines regulators in the EU and the United Kingdom to include mention of dangerous blood clotting conditions as a possible, albeit rare, side effect. UK regulators said at the time that healthy adults under the age of 30 should be offered another vaccine because, for them, the risk of Vaxzevria is greater than the risk of severe illness from Covid-19.

AstraZeneca overcame this hurdle, selling nearly $4 billion worth of Vaxzevria worldwide in 2021, according to its earnings statement. The company initially sold the vaccine at cost but said in late 2021 that it expected to start seeing “modest” profits from the vaccine (AstraZeneca did not report product-specific profit figures). Last year, sales of Vaxzevria totaled just $12 million.

The company faces a class action lawsuit in the UK brought by law firm Leigh Day on behalf of 51 claimants over injuries allegedly caused by Vaxzevria. Twelve of the claimants acted on behalf of loved ones who died following complications allegedly caused by vaccines, related to blood clotting issues.

Asked about the court case, a spokesperson for AstraZeneca said: “Our sympathies go out to anyone who has lost a loved one or reported health problems… From the body of evidence in clinical trials and real-world data, the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine has consistently been shown to have an acceptable safety profile , and regulators around the world have consistently stated that the benefits of vaccines rice overcomes the risk of very rare side effects.”

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