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AstraZeneca says a study of its vaccine showed a 79% efficacy in preventing symptomatic disease. The study may meet FDA requirements for emergency vaccine authorization.



NOEL KING, HOST:

A coronavirus vaccine currently being used worldwide may also be available soon in the US AstraZeneca announced preliminary results today from a vaccine study involving 32,000 volunteers. The FDA requires studies like this before issuing emergency use authorization. Now, there have been some concerns about this particular vaccine. Dozens of countries temporarily stopped giving it after a very small number of recipients developed blood clots. NPR science correspondent Joe Palca is covering this. Good morning, Joe.

JOE PALCA, BYLINE: Good morning, Noel.

KING: How well did the vaccine do in this study?

PALCA: Actually, quite well. This was a study of, as you said, about 32,000 people. Two-thirds received two shots of the vaccine four weeks apart, and one-third received two shots of a placebo. And they compared the effectiveness of the vaccine – 79% were protected from taking COVID-19, which is good. One hundred percent were prevented from serious illness and hospitalization. And these results are somewhat interesting because previous studies reported by the company had much more variable results – and somewhat lower, indeed, in many circumstances. Good news.

KING: Good news. How does it compare to the other vaccines found there?

PALCA: Well, not bad. You probably remember Moderna and Pfizer. They were the first two vaccines to come out – RNA vaccines. They were reporting 90% to 95% efficiency. Johnson & Johnson, which is a vaccine very similar to AstraZeneca, was closer to 70% efficiency. So it was somewhat better than that, although the Johnson & Johnson vaccine only requires a single dose, which makes it desirable for public health reasons – easier to get in humans.

This study did not answer the question of whether the AstraZeneca vaccine will work against some of the new variants that are circulating. It was completed in the United States before UK variants began to circulate widely in this country. And other studies have shown that it does not seem to work so well against the variant circulating in South Africa. So still a question mark there.

KING: Okay. And the variants, of course, as you reported – a very big deal. Did this study find any evidence that people who received this vaccine developed blood clots, which was why some European countries temporarily stopped giving it?

PALCA: Yes They – the company, in the press release they issued this morning, was too specific to say that they asked for any indication of this in the 21,000 or so people who received the vaccine, and they saw none. But I have to point out that this is a study of, as we say, 20,000 people getting the vaccine and the signal – if this is a rare event that only happens once in 100,000, once in a million, once in 10 million people, you just will not see it in a survey of 21,000 people. So it may be there; it may not be so.

KING: Okay. And when will the FDA make a decision on the AstraZeneca vaccine?

PALCA: Well, the company says it’s, you know, sending its FDA documents. The FDA will then go through a very detailed look at it, coming down to very individual cases in some cases to make sure its analysis agrees with AstraZeneca’s analysis. Then there is an advisory committee meeting, and then there is a decision. So anything that may come in the coming weeks or months.

KING: Okay. Joe Palca and NPR. Thank you, Joe

PALCA: We welcome you.

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