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Top scientist defends decision to sell AstraZeneca vaccine at a profit Pharma group partnership

One of the scientists behind the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine has defended a decision to make profits on new supply deals, as the partnership announced that more than 2bn doses had been delivered.

Sandy Douglas, a research group leader at Oxford, said in an interview that it was “a distraction for people to latch on to the pricing”, and that this was “losing sight of what’s really important”.

Oxford university said it had reached the 2bn milestone by using a strategy that involved “feeding” certain nutrients to vaccine-making cells, allowing more to be made in each batch.

Pascal Soriot, AstraZeneca’s chief executive, called it a “proud day and testament to what can be achieved when we all work together”.

According to life sciences consultancy Airfinity, 2.11bn doses of CoronaVac made by China’s Sinovac have been delivered to date. For the BioNTech/Pfizer jab, the figure is 1.96bn.

AstraZeneca announced last week that it had signed its first for-profit deals for its vaccine, moving away from the completely non-profit model it used during the pandemic. It is also creating a vaccines division.

Soriot said at the time that the company had consulted with experts and concluded Covid-19 was entering an “endemic phase” and that it would be the right time to switch contracts for many countries in the next year. He added that in the fourth quarter, the majority of doses would still be under existing non-profit contracts.

It will continue to supply poorer nations on a non-profit basis.

“Do I think the pandemic is over? Absolutely not. In many countries around the world death rates are still as high as they have ever been,” Douglas said.

“We can only begin to say the pandemic is actually over once there is really wide, equitable, widespread access to vaccines all around the world.

“AstraZeneca has done more than any other company to address that,” he said. “They haven’t made the massive profits others have made by focusing sales on the rich world throughout the height of the pandemic.”

The AstraZeneca vaccine has had some setbacks this year, including delays because of manufacturing problems, concerns over a very rare blood clotting side effect and disputes over data about its effectiveness.

Pfizer and Moderna, another vaccine maker, have been criticised for making substantial profits while not doing enough to address disparities in global access.

“I’d love to see any other company match AstraZeneca’s commitment to affordability and equitable access,” Douglas said.

“Frankly, I don’t think any of the people in low-income countries who haven’t had a vaccine yet are bothered about whether or not AstraZeneca is making a modest profit in richer countries. It’s irrelevant.”

Additional reporting by Hannah Kuchler

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