AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine success followed major scientific mistake

AstraZeneca’s UK scientists made a major mistake during trials of its coronavirus vaccine — one that led to its most important breakthrough, the team’s lead researcher said.

The team working with Oxford University was supposed to give volunteers two full doses of the vaccine, which proved to be around 62% effective in the group given the correct portions.

But one group of British volunteers was initially only given a half dose by mistake — a ration that tested to be up to 90% effective when combined with a full dose at least a month later.

“That, in essence, is how we stumbled upon” the successful combination, Mene Pangalos, the head of AstraZeneca’s non-oncology research and development, told Reuters.

“Yes, it was a mistake.”

The dosage mishap was only realized after that group of volunteers suffered far milder side effects than the headaches and fatigue expected, Pangalos said.

“So we went back and checked … and we found out that they had underpredicted the dose of the vaccine by half,” he told the wire service.

“The reason we had the half dose is serendipity,” Pangalos said of it leading to the key breakthrough.

AstraZeneca is now the third drug maker reporting encouraging vaccine results, joining Pfizer and Moderna whose shots both tested up to 95% effective in trials.

The latest vaccine option is easier to distribute, however, as it only needs to be refrigerated rather than frozen like the other two.

It is also cheaper, with AstraZeneca pledging to not make a profit on the vaccine during the pandemic, reaching agreements with governments and international health organizations that put its cost at about $2.50 a dose.

Pfizer’s vaccine costs about $20, while Moderna’s is $15 to $25, based on agreements the companies have struck to supply their vaccines to the US government.

With Post wires

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