CORONAVIRUS

Spain secures its first potential coronavirus vaccine: 30 million doses from AstraZeneca

If the candidate proves to be safe and effective, it is still not expected to be available for sale until the end of the year or the beginning of 2021

A lab technician at work at AstraZeneca.
A lab technician at work at AstraZeneca.Stringer / Reuters

Spain has secured its first doses of a potential Covid-19 vaccine. According to sources from the Spanish Health Ministry, the government has told the European Commission that it will participate in the plan to purchase 300 million doses for EU countries from British-Swedish pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, once its vaccine candidate is proven to be safe and effective against the disease.

Under the agreement, announced on August 14, each European Union member state that joins the plan will receive a number of doses in proportion to their population. This means that Spain will get 31 million doses of the vaccine if, as is expected, all EU members agree to the purchase. The European Commission also has the option to purchase 100 million more doses from AstraZeneca. If this option is pursued, Spain would receive an additional 10 million doses.

AstraZeneca has said that the vaccine will cost just a few euros

A coronavirus vaccine is crucial to governments for both health and economic reasons: it is needed to address the worst pandemic in a century and to tackle the unprecedented financial crisis that the crisis has caused. The Spanish Health Ministry has placed its trust in Europe’s strategy to negotiate a vaccine with multinational laboratories. The European Commission has much greater negotiating power than Spain, meaning it is able to guarantee the supply and its equal division between countries. The deadline to join the centralized purchase ended on Monday and more details about what each country will receive as part of the deal are expected to be revealed shortly.

This is the European Commission’s first deal to purchase a possible Covid-19 vaccine. The drug in question, known as AZD7442, is currently being developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University. The doses will be made available once the Europe Medicines Agency approves the vaccine for sale. At that moment, the drug will be able to be distributed and administered, a situation that is not expected to happen until the end of the year of the beginning of 2021.

Spain recently joined the agreement between the European Commission and EU states on Covid-19 vaccines. This initiative is aimed at allowing EU organisms to negotiate purchases with multinationals via Advance Pricing Agreements (APA). Once the conditions of the purchase were reviewed, the Spanish government decided to opt for this route, which will provide it with up to 40 million vaccine doses.

Unknown price

It’s not yet known how much Spain and the rest of the participating EU states will pay for the purchase. AstraZeneca has said that the vaccine will cost just a few euros, making it one of the most accessible, compared to other, more-advanced options from pharmaceutical companies such as Moderna, Pfizer and Janssen (the group that owns the Johnson & Johnson brand).

The candidate from AstraZeneca, whose investigation was launched by Oxford University, is one of the leaders in the vaccine race. Some 30,000 volunteers have been enrolled to assess the safety and efficiency of the drug as part of the Phase 3 clinical trial, the final stage before it is put on the market. There is no guarantee that this vaccine candidate or any others will be authorized. It was, however, revealed on Sunday that US President Donald Trump is considering authorizing the AstraZeneca vaccine even though it has not completed its clinical trials.

The European Commission is also negotiating the purchase of more vaccine supplies with other companies, which Spain could also join. The US laboratory Moderna said on Monday that it had reached an agreement to provide Europe with 80 million doses of its vaccine candidate, which could be doubled to 160 million. On July 27, the company entered Phase 3 of its clinical trial and began testing thousands of volunteers. Moderna, which has already reached an agreement with Rovi Laboratories to make the drug in Madrid, will offer the vaccine at a cost of between $32 and $37 (€27 to €31) per dose.

The European Commission is in talks with the German drugmaker CureVac to buy 225 million vaccine doses. It has also reached agreements to buy 300 million doses from Sonfi and GSK, and 200 million (with the option for 200 more) from Janssen.

In total, the European Commission has guaranteed a minimum of 1.1 billion doses and a maximum of 1.44 billion until the end of 2021, if all the vaccine candidates are successful. In most cases, two doses of a vaccine need to be administered to each person if it is to be effective.

English version by Melissa Kitson.

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