Why AstraZeneca’s COVID vaccine could be better than the others

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AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford have announced the results of the late-stage clinical trials for its COVID vaccine. The headline effective rate is only 70%, but there’s much more to the story. In reality, AstraZeneca’s COVID vaccine could be more promising than the candidates from Pfizer and Moderna.

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Late-stage results for AstraZeneca's COVID vaccine

What makes AstraZeneca's COVID vaccine trials so different than the trials conducted by Pfizer and Moderna is the fact that the company tried two different dosing regimens. The average effective rate across the two regimens was 70%, but there was a wide range of difference between them.

When trial participants were given a half dose of the vaccine one day followed by a full dose a month later, the vaccine was 90% effective, making it almost as effective as Moderna's and Pfizer's vaccine candidates. However, when participants were given a full dose one day followed by another full dose a month later, AstraZeneca's COVID vaccine was only 62% effective.

Unfortunately, AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Moderna used different methods for identifying COVID cases in trial participants. AstraZeneca swabbed all participants weekly, whether they had symptoms or not, while Pfizer and Moderna only swabbed patients who developed symptoms. That means AstraZeneca's trial was bound to turn up more cases, while Pfizer and Moderna would have missed asymptomatic cases.

Why AstraZeneca's COVID vaccine may be better

Researchers didn't identify any "serious safety events related to the vaccine," which is also good news. AstraZeneca had paused its trials in September to look into safety issues after one British participant developed neurological problems. However, the vaccine was not found to have caused those problems.

The reason AstraZeneca's vaccine candidate could be considered better than Pfizer's and Moderna's candidates is because it would allow more people to be vaccinated for the same number of doses. Both of the other two vaccines require two full doses. This is especially significant because the COVID-19 vaccines will be in short supply when the injections begin.

One other way in which AstraZeneca's COVID vaccine is better than Moderna's and Pfizer's is the fact that it can be stored for at least six months in a regular refrigerator. Moderna's vaccine can be stored in a standard refrigerator for up to 30 days or in a freezer at -20 degrees Celsius for up to six months. Pfizer's vaccine requires a freezer set at-70 degrees Celsius, which is much colder than the freezers currently found in most pharmacies and medical facilities.

Price comparison

Additionally, AstraZeneca's COVID vaccine is far less expensive than the other two. The injection will be priced between $3 and $4, which is a fraction of what other vaccines cost. CNBC reported hat Moderna was charging $32 to $37 per dose for its vaccine as of August, while Pfizer's vaccine was priced at $19.50 per dose, according to The Guardian.

AstraZeneca has pledged to sell its vaccine at cost around the globe until at least July 2021 and in poorer countries in perpetuity, according to The New York Times. The vaccine can also be mass produced fairly easily. AstraZeneca plans to make it available by the end of the year and aims to manufacture up to 3 billion doses in 2021.

The markets respond

The market's response to AstraZeneca's vaccine was more muted since it is the third vaccine for the coronavirus to be announced. However, U.S. Treasury yields did rise again today. The yield on the 10-year Treasury increased to 0.849%, while the yield on the 30-year climbed to 1.551%.

Stocks were mixed after AstraZeneca announced its results. The S&P 500 climbed 0.6% initially before pulling back a bit. The Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 0.5%. The Nasdaq Composite was in the red, falling 0.15% immediately after the market opened. The gold price tumbled nearly 2% after the news was announced, falling to $1,837 an ounce. The dollar declined 0.3% as risk appetite nudged higher.