May 30, 2024

AstraZeneca has begun the global withdrawal of its Covid-19 vaccine due to a “surplus of available updated vaccines” targeting new variants of the virus.

The announcement follow the pharmaceutical company voluntarily withdraw its European Union marketing authorization in Marchwhich is the approval to market a medicine in member states.

On May 7, the European Medicines Agency issued a notice that the vaccine is no longer authorized for use.

In a statement, AstraZeneca said the decision was made because there is now a range of newer vaccines available that have been adapted to target Covid-19 variants. This led to a decrease in demand for the AstraZeneca vaccine, which is no longer manufactured or supplied.

“According to independent estimates, more than 6.5 million lives were saved in the first year of use alone and more than 3 billion doses were provided worldwide,” the statement said.

“Our efforts have been recognized by governments around the world and are widely seen as a critical component in ending the global pandemic. We will work closely with regulators and our partners to align a clear path forward to close this chapter and a significant contribution to the Covid-19 pandemic.”

Other countries have already stopped supplying the vaccine. It has not been available for use in Australia since March 2023, although its use has already been phased out from June 2021 due to the widespread availability of newer vaccines.

AstraZeneca changed the name of its Covid vaccine to Vaxzevria in 2021. The vaccine is authorized for use in those 18 years of age and older, given as two injections, usually into the muscle of the upper arm, about three months apart. It has also been used as a booster shot by some countries.

Vaxzevria consists of another virus of the adenovirus family that has been modified to contain the gene for making a protein from SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19. The vaccine does not contain the virus itself and cannot cause the virus.

Although the vaccine was found to be generally safe and effective, it carried the risk of a rare but serious side effect known as thrombosis with thrombocytopenia, or TTS. The rare syndrome has occurred in about two to three people per 100,000 vaccinated with the Vaxzevria vaccine.

The chair of epidemiology at Deakin University in Australia, Prof Catherine Bennett, said the vaccine played a crucial role in the global fight against the virus, especially in the early days of the pandemic when limited vaccines were available.

“It saved millions of lives and it should not be forgotten,” she said.

“That was a very important part of the initial global response. However, it targeted the initial ancestral variants. We have now moved into a vaccine chain where we have products available that chase the emerging variants.

“There is also a shift in the risk calculation as well, given populations are much more protected and, although Covid obviously still causes deaths, we are generally less vulnerable to the disease.”

The latest Covid-19 vaccine advice issued advised by the World Health Organization in April that formulations of Covid-19 vaccines should target the JN.1 lineage of the virus, displacing existing XBB lineage variants.

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