Last week, the United Kingdom gave emergency authorization to the Covid-19 vaccine candidate, Pfizer - a significant moment in the times of the coronavirus pandemic. This decision fueled the possibility of Pfizer’s vaccine being rolled out this month. The Pfizer vaccine, created by the US pharmaceutical company Pfizer and its German partner BioNtech, showed 95% efficacy in its Phase 3 trials.
After months of working on vaccine development, countries have started to test vaccines. The race continues to find a safe and effective Covid-19 vaccine and three candidates are running ahead of the others - Pfizer and BioNtech’s vaccine, Moderna vaccine, and AstraZeneca and Oxford University’s vaccine. Though they are all top-tier and preferred vaccines among a long list, they have distinct differences that will affect their distribution and use. Here is a brief comparison of how they rank in terms of - cost, efficacy, and storage.
- AstraZeneca’s vaccine will cost $4 per dose
- Pfizer’s vaccine will cost around $20 per dose
- Moderna’s vaccine will cost $15-$25 per dose.
Clearly, AstraZeneca’s vaccine is much more affordable than Moderna’s and Pfizer. This is because AstraZeneca was the only one of the three to pledge to not attempt to make profits from the vaccine during the pandemic. This is in context to their deal with COVAX, a global initiative to ensure equitable distribution of the vaccine, especially in low-income nations.
For developing nations such as ours, the success of AstraZeneca is very important due to its low cost. While the US and the UK can afford to vaccinate their citizens with high-cost vaccines, it will be difficult to do so in India and other developing nations. COVAX has placed an order for 300 million doses from AstraZeneca. Pfizer-BioNtech isn’t a part of the COVAX initiative and while Moderna did strike a deal with COVAX, they haven’t "quite aligned with them on how many doses and when those doses would be available," as per a report by Axios.
- Pfizer’s vaccine has reported efficacy of 95%
- Moderna’s vaccine has reported efficacy of 94.10%
- AstraZeneca’s vaccine has reported efficacy of 70%.
While AstraZeneca appears as a great option owing to its low cost and ease of transportation, the vaccine’s trials results are not very optimistic. Also, it had faced criticism on the way it presented the data from its trial. It claimed that its vaccine had an efficacy of 62% for a two full doses trial and 90% efficacy for a regiment of a half dose followed by a full dose - this kind of shifty data received a lot of flak by experts. Due to discrepancy in data, AstraZeneca’s vaccine may not be authorized in the US or UK until after approval of Pfizer and Moderna.
For a 6 month storage period:
- Pfizer’s vaccine has to be stored at minus 70 degrees Celsius
- Moderna’s vaccine has to be stored at minus 20 degree Celsius
- AstraZeneca’s vaccine can be stored in a standard refrigerator
Pfizer’s vaccine needs to be stored at extremely low temperatures as its preparation is based on mRNA, which falls apart unless kept in freezing temperatures. It will also need to be transported in temperature-controlled boxes, which is quite expensive and cumbersome. Medical practitioners need to make sure to freeze the vaccine to minus 70 degrees Celsius until it’s ready to be injected.
On a positive note, Moderna’s and AstraZeneca’s vaccine is much easier to store. While the Moderna vaccine can be stored in a standard freezer at minus -20 degree Celsius and can survive in a standard refrigerator for a month, AstraZeneca’s vaccine can be refrigerated for as long as 6 months.
Where does Bharat BioTech’s Covaxin stand in comparison to the top three vaccines?
- Cost of Bharat BioTech’s vaccine is not announced yet
- Efficacy of Bharat BioTech’s vaccine is 60%
- Bharat BioTech’s vaccine can be stored at 2-8 degrees Celsius
On August 4, Dr Krishna Ella, MD, Chairman & Managing Director of Bharat Biotech International Limited, said that “water bottle costs five times more than our vaccine” and soon there were reports saying that Covaxin will be priced below Rs 100. Before we get our hopes up, we must realise that this price hasn’t been confirmed yet. In fact, there is no consensus on the price of the vaccine as the company is determining the cost of vaccine development.
In terms of effectiveness, Bharat BioTech’s Covaxin has a lower efficacy (60%) than the top three vaccines. However, they are still planning to seek approval to launch the vaccine in 2021, after collecting more experimental evidence and efficacy in their last stage of trials. According to Sai D Prasad, President, Quality Operations at Bharat Biotech, the vaccine can be stored at 2-8 degrees Celsius, indicating easy storage in standard refrigerators.