Friday 11 December 2020 11:18 am

Astrazeneca to test combining Covid-19 vaccine with Russia’s Sputnik jab

Astrazeneca has announced it will experiment with combining its Covid-19 vaccine with Russia’s Sputnik V jab, in a move that scientists believe could significantly boost efficacy.

In its statement this morning, Astrazeneca said it was considering assessing combinations of different vaccines, and would soon begin exploring with Russia’s Gamaleya Institute, which developed Sputnik V.

Read more: Sanofi and GSK announce delay in coronavirus vaccine programme

Peer-reviewed data published in the Lancet journal earlier this week showed that Astrazeneca’s vaccine, being developed alongside the University of Oxford, has an average efficacy rate of 70 per cent.

However, the vaccine’s effectiveness jumped to 90 per cent in a group of volunteers who were given an initial half dose followed by a full dose one month later.

Russia has claimed Sputnik V is 92 per cent effective at protecting people from Covid-19, according to interim trial results.

The country began rolling out its vaccination programme this week despite the vaccine still undergoing phase three clinical trials.

Kirill Dmitriev, head of Russia’s RDIF sovereign wealth fund, which has funded Sputnik V, said: “This shows the strength of Sputnik V technology and our willingness and desire to partner with other vaccines to fight against Covid together.

“We are determined to develop this partnership in the future and to start joint production after the new vaccine demonstrates its efficacy in the course of clinical trials. We hope that other vaccine producers will follow our example.”

The UK has hedged its bets on the Astrazeneca vaccine, ordering 100m doses of the jab, compared to 40m doses of the Pfizer/Biontech vaccine and 7m of Moderna’s.

The Astrazeneca/Oxford vaccine poses significant logistical advantages over its peers, including its ability to be transported easily at normal temperatures.

The Pfizer vaccine, which on Tuesday kicked off the UK’s largest ever vaccination programme, must be kept at -70C and transported using “thermal shippers”.

Read more: Analysis: Why dismay over the Astrazeneca vaccine is misplaced

Astrazeneca has also pledged it will not make a profit on the vaccine during the pandemic, and has reached agreements with governments and international health organisations to sell the drug at a price tag of between $4 and $5, depending on local charges. 

That paves the way for a feasible exit from the coronavirus crisis for developing countries, at a time when the world’s wealthiest countries have gobbled up pre-orders of vaccine supplies. 

Pfizer’s vaccine, meanwhile, costs about $20 a dose, and Moderna’s comes with a price tag of around $15 to $25.