AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot says he might have an explanation for the surge in infections engulfing Europe — not enough people took his vaccine.
In an interview on BBC Radio 4’s Today program, Soriot said that differences in T-cell immunity between vaccines could potentially mean that those who received the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab had longer-lasting protection against COVID-19.
“It’s really interesting when you look at the U.K.,” he said. “There was a big peak of infections but not so many hospitalizations relative to Europe. In the U.K. [the Oxford/AstraZeneca] vaccine was used to vaccinate older people whereas in Europe, people thought initially the vaccine doesn’t work in older people.”
Hesitancy around the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine began earlier this year when Germany became the first European country to discourage the jab for people older than 65, citing insufficient data for the vaccine’s safe use in this age group and a risk of blood clots. Canada, Italy, France, Poland and Sweden quickly followed suit.
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In March of this year, Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunizations halted the use of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine despite Health Canada’s authorization for it to be administered to adults of all ages. NACI later made that advisory applicable to people younger than 55.
“People should appreciate that not all blood clots are created the same,” infectious diseases physician Isaac Bogoch told CBC. “This is a very specific and particular method of blood clotting that likely has an association with the vaccine.”
Countries that suspended the use of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine ultimately reversed the advisory once more data was made available.
Soriot suggested that this hesitancy might have cost these countries an early immunization, because the data showed that the AstraZeneca jab offered long-term protection and he hinted that the response is more durable than mRNA jabs such as Pfizer and Moderna.
Danny Altmann, a professor of immunology at Imperial College London, said in an interview with The Guardian that it would be “foolhardy” to try to attribute the differences in the shape of individual countries’ infection curves to any single factor.
“I don’t know where you’d start to do that scientifically,” Altmann said. “All of the vaccines are, to varying degrees, pretty amazing. They all induce the full gamut of immunity, including neutralizing antibodies and [different types of] T-cells.”
Similarly, Lance Turtle, a consultant physician in infectious diseases at the University of Liverpool, cautioned in an interview with The Guardian that “drawing comparisons between countries presents many difficulties and is very likely to lead to conclusions which are not reliable.”
But Eleanor Riley, a professor of immunology and infectious disease at the University of Edinburgh, backed Soriot’s assertion.
“Since the AstraZeneca vaccine is slightly better at inducing these T-cells, the implication is that it may provide longer term protection against hospitalization and death,” Riley told The Telegraph. “I think this is the point that Dr. Soriot was making.”
However, a paper, published in Nature, by University Hospital Tubingen in Germany, concludec that Pfizer produced nearly six times more T-cells than AstraZeneca 18 to 42 days after the second vaccination. Moreover, data has continuously proved that mRNA vaccines are slightly better at preventing infection and serious disease than AstraZeneca, which potentially disproves Soriot’s claim that the vaccine provides better protection.
The BBC Radio 4 interviewer reminded Soriot that French President Emmanuel Macron famously claimed that the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine was “almost ineffective”.
“I’m not saying there was a mistake done by anybody,” Soriot said, “I’m just saying that there is a lot of data that needs to be made available that we do not have.”