Remember when I said “we’ll see if anything else happens” in last week’s article on AstraZeneca’s issues? Well, I accept full responsibility for manifesting the chaos that happened earlier this week and I promise I won’t tempt fate again this time around. If you’re confused, as I certainly was, here’s just what the hell happened.
On Monday, AstraZeneca released results from their Phase 3 trials in the United States, and they looked good: 79% efficacy against symptomatic disease, 100% efficacy against hospitalizations and deaths. This was certainly a welcome result for the company which is continuing to grapple with fallout from rare cases of blood clots that have been reported in some people after they got the vaccine, and gears started to turn to get EUA approval in the United States. (Even though, again, the U.S. just promised most of their supply to Canada and Mexico. Everyone wants FDA clout, I guess.)
But on Tuesday, officials started to question the results. The results released on Monday had looked better than more recent results released elsewhere, one of which showed an overall efficacy of around 60%. Also, as Dr. Eric Topol pointed out, the data were fairly incomplete:
Independent reviewers from the data and safety monitoring board sent “a harsh note” to AstraZeneca, according to Anthony Fauci, and sure enough, it soon became clear that AstraZeneca had released outdated (better) numbers instead of the real results from the trial, obfuscating how efficacious the vaccine actually was in the U.S. trial.
After all this, on Wednesday morning, AstraZeneca released the updated overall efficacy number: 76%. All that drama over docking three percentage points. (Though they did also complete the dataset, thus satisfying Dr. Topol and saving them more of his very pointed tweets. Thank you Dr. Topol.)
Dr. Ashish Jha sums it up pretty well:
But Roxanne Khamsi sums it up even better:
We’ll see if anything el—nope, I promised I wouldn’t.
- Booster shots exacerbate global vaccine inequityAt the end of last week’s post on booster shots, I wrote that these additional doses take up airtime in expert discussions and in the media, distracting from discussions of what it will take to vaccinate the world. But these shots do more harm than just taking over the media cycle. When the U.S. and other wealthy nations decide to give many residents third doses, they jump the vaccine supply line again—leaving low-income nations to wait even longer for first doses.
- Another COVID-19 endgame takeTrevor Bedford, computational virologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center—and widely regarded expert on coronavirus variants—wrote a useful Twitter thread this week. In the thread, Bedford provides his take on the “COVID-19 endgame.” In other words, what will happen once the virus reaches endemic levels?
- Unreliable population numbers hinder vaccination rate analysisAn excellent article in the Financial Times, published this past Monday, illuminates one major challenge of estimating a vaccine campaign’s success: population data are not always reliable. Health reporter Oliver Barnes and data reporter John Burn-Murdoch explain that, in several countries and smaller regions, inaccurate counts of how many people live in the region have led to vaccination rate estimates that make the area’s vaccine campaign look more successful—or less successful—than it really is.
- Booster shots: What we’ve learned—and what we still don’t knowThis week, the FDA’s vaccine advisory committee had a two-day meeting to discuss booster shots for Moderna’s and Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccines. From the outside, these meetings may have appeared fairly straightforward: the committee voted unanimously to recommend booster shots for both vaccines. But in fact, the discussions on both days were wide-reaching and full of questions, touching on the many continued gaps in our knowledge about the need for additional vaccine doses.