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Covid-19 Live Updates: Britain Approves Homegrown Vaccine from AstraZeneca and Oxford

A volunteer participating in the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine trial getting a shot in Oxford, England, in November.
Credit…Andrew Testa for The New York Times

A global push to accelerate vaccinations gathered steam on Wednesday, as Britain became the first country to give emergency authorization to the coronavirus vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford and China announced that late-stage drug trials showed that one of its coronavirus vaccines was effective. Russia also secured an important outside vote of confidence in the safety of its Sputnik V vaccine, with the start of mass inoculations in Belarus and Argentina.

Britain’s approval of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine opens a path for a cheap and easy-to-store shot that much of the world will rely on to help end the pandemic. Indian officials met on Wednesday and were set to meet again on Friday to consider vaccine applications.

For Britain, where hospitals are overwhelmed by a new, more contagious variant of the virus, the regulator’s decision offered some hope of a reprieve. The health service is preparing to vaccinate a million people per week at makeshift sites in soccer stadiums and racetracks.

The Oxford-AstraZeneca shot is poised to become the world’s dominant form of inoculation. At $3 to $4 a dose, it is a fraction of the cost of some other vaccines. And it can be shipped and stored at normal refrigeration temperatures for six months, rather than in the ultracold freezers required by the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, making it easier to administer to people in poorer and hard-to-reach areas.

When given in two, full-strength doses, AstraZeneca’s vaccine showed 62 percent efficacy in clinical trials — considerably lower than the roughly 95 percent efficacy achieved by Pfizer and Moderna’s shots. For reasons scientists don’t yet understand, AstraZeneca’s vaccine showed 90 percent efficacy in a smaller group of volunteers who were given a half-strength initial dose.

Russia has been battling what it dismisses as politically motivated doubts about its coronavirus vaccine, Sputnik V. Several countries have taken deliveries, but this week Belarus and Argentina became the first to start injecting it on a large scale.

Sputnik V has been dogged by criticism since President Vladimir V. Putin announced in August that the vaccine was ready for use even though clinical trials had not been completed.

Large-scale clinical trials carried out since have shown the vaccine, developed by the Gamaleya National Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology, to be more than 91 percent effective, according to its Russian backers.

A voluntary vaccination program using Sputnik V began in Russia this month, but a recent survey found that only 38 percent of Russians intended to get the vaccine.

Belarus, the first country outside Russia to start inoculating its citizens with Sputnik V, is a stalwart ally of Moscow. Hungary, whose leader, Viktor Orban, has pointed to Russia as a beacon of his model of so-called illiberal democracy, on Monday became the first member of the European Union to receive a delivery of the Russian vaccine, though only 6,000 vials. Vaccine doses also arrived in Serbia on Wednesday.

The news from China could pave the way for the global rollout of hundreds of millions of vaccine doses in the coming months, but the announcement lacked crucial details.

The state-controlled firm Sinopharm said that a vaccine candidate made by its Beijing Institute of Biological Products arm had proved to be 79 percent effective in interim Phase 3 trials. Sinopharm said it had asked Chinese regulators to allow the vaccine to be used broadly.

If supported, the results would bolster officials’ claims that Chinese vaccines are safe and effective. Even without the government’s approval, the authorities have already moved ahead with mass vaccinations, defying industry norms. They plan to vaccinate 50 million people in China…

Read More: Covid-19 Live Updates: Britain Approves Homegrown Vaccine from AstraZeneca and Oxford

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