British authorities are expected to approve the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine this week, and the head of the company said it will be as effective against the virus as the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines.
AstraZeneca chief executive Pascal Soriot told the Sunday Times the company has “figured out the winning formula and how to get efficacy that, after two doses, is up there with everybody else.”
He added that he believes his company’s vaccine will also be effective against the new variant of the virus, which is more contagious and causing concern worldwide.
“So far, we think the vaccine should remain effective. But we can’t be sure, so we’re going to test that,” Soriot said.
If approved, AstraZeneca’s vaccine will make it five that have been rolled out to fight the virus. Early tests showed that the vaccine was 70% effective for preventing illness, compared to 95% reported by Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech. Russia and China also have their own vaccines.
The latest vaccine on the horizon comes as the world reached the grim milestone of 80.7 million people worldwide infected by the virus with 1.7 million world deaths globally, according to the Johns Hopkins University.
In the U.S., 19 million people have been infected with the virus with 330,000 deaths.
On Sunday, several European Union countries began vaccinating against COVID-19, aiming to inoculate more than 450 million people.
In Italy, a nurse, a university professor and a doctor were the first people to receive the initial vaccine dose at Rome's Lazzaro Spallanzani hospital.
“Today Italy reawakens. It’s #VaccineDay,” wrote Italy’s Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte on Twitter. Italy was one of Europe’s hardest hit countries during spring 2020.
The first shipments of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine were limited to 10,000 doses in most EU countries. Each nation decides its own vaccination program, but all are vaccinating the most vulnerable first.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen called it “a touching moment of unity” in a video celebrating the beginning of the rollout of the vaccine.
The vaccination in EU countries began as more countries worldwide reported cases of the new coronavirus variant.
The new virus strain is 50% to 74% more contagious than its predecessors, according to a study from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, raising fears of more hospitalizations and deaths in 2021 than in 2020.
Effective Monday, U.S. authorities said passengers arriving from Britain, where the new mutation was first identified, must test negative for COVID-19 72-hours before departure.
Japan, which reported its first case of the virus variant, banned all non-resident foreigner arrivals from midnight Monday through the end of January.
In a video Sunday marking International Day of Epidemic Preparedness, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, chief of the World Health Organization, said "history tells us that this will not be the last pandemic, and epidemics are a fact of life."