AstraZeneca released updated data on its COVID-19 vaccine, saying that a more recent analysis shows the vaccine to be 76 percent effective against symptomatic COVID-19. It’s a slight drop from the 79 percent that the company touted in an ad earlier this week. That number was based on outdated data, US health officials said in an unusual public statement rebuking the company.
Original efficacy was based on interim analysis using data collected up to February 17. But adding more data collected after that date showed the vaccine may have been 69 to 74 percent effective, according to a letter from the independent panel monitoring the clinical trial and reported by the Washington Post. The panel “strongly recommended” that those figures also be reported.
The new result is a few percentage points higher, but a finding in that range would still have been a good result and much higher than the 50 percent efficacy limit that the US Food and Drug Administration said it wanted. of COVID-19 vaccines last fall. A federal official said the Washington Post that AstraZeneca’s decision to publish only the highest number earlier this week was like “tell your mother that you got an A in a course, when you got an A in the first quiz but a C in the general course”.
Publishing scientific data in a press release rather than a scientific article means that outside experts cannot analyze the claims. The companies behind the first three COVID-19 vaccines licensed for use in the United States also reported the results of their clinical trials in press releases for the first time. Their data was kept, but experts were still critical of that strategy. AstraZeneca’s failed data release shows why they were so cautious.
The updated data indicated that this vaccine is probably a good vaccine and will have an important role to play in the global fight against COVID-19. It is inexpensive compared to Moderna and Pfizer / BioNTech vaccines, can be stored at room temperature, and has been intended as a main injection to vaccinate low-income countries.
But over the past year, it has been defined more by controversy than good science. The company was not transparent with regulators when the trial had safety concerns, for example, and its clinical trial was buggy and opaque methodology. The US clinical trial was supposed to clear up the confusion. Instead, the failed data release added to the mess just as public health officials are trying to bolster confidence in COVID-19 vaccines.