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Oxford vaccine dubbed ‘winning formula’ as variant spreads across the globe

The boss of the firm behind the Oxford vaccine has raised hopes it is more effective than first thought.

The Government has ordered 100 million doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, with around 40 million available by the end of March.

There have been some concerns the Oxford vaccine may not be as good as preventing symptomatic disease as the other vaccines such as the one by Pfizer already being distributed.

AstraZeneca chief Pascal Soriot said: “We think we have figured out the winning formula and how to get efficacy that, after two doses, is up there with everybody else.

“I can’t tell you more because we will publish at some point.”

He told The Sunday Times of the figures already released on the jab: “We would have preferred a simpler set of results, but overall we thought these are positive, they meet the criteria established by regulators around the world.”

“We assumed people would be a bit disappointed, that’s for sure,” he went on.

“But we didn’t expect that storm.”

His comments come as the Sunday Telegraph reports the Oxford jab could be rolled out en masse from a few days into the New Year.

According to the newspaper, the Government hopes that the approval could mean more than two million could receive their first dose of a coronavirus vaccine within a fortnight, with doses of the Oxford medicine available from January 4.

A government spokesperson said: “The medicines regulator is reviewing the final data from the University of Oxford/AstraZeneca phase three clinical trials to determine whether the vaccine meets their strict standards of quality, safety and effectiveness.

“We must now give the MHRA the time to carry out its important work and we must wait for its advice.”

It comes amid the rapid spread of the UK virus strain across the globe.

Canada became the latest country to identify cases of the new highly infectious variant of coronavirus, which was first detected in the UK and has since spread to at least a dozen countries.

And Chancellor Rishi Sunak praised vaccination efforts so far, telling the Mail on Sunday: “There will be tough days and months ahead, but there are reasons to look ahead to a brighter future and what 2021 promises.

“The early roll-out of vaccines – and the incredible work of our scientists and NHS – means we can now see light at the end of the tunnel with this pandemic.”

But medical unions and Labour criticised the Government’s handling of the programme, which they said had not made enough progress in care homes.

Nadra Ahmed, chairman of the National Care Association, told the Sunday Mirror the Pfizer/BioNTech roll out was going to be “difficult” but added: “It’s another case of the massive over-promise on something that just cannot be delivered. It’s constant.”

And Labour shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth told the paper there was a “race against time” to vaccinate enough people as he urged the Government to avoid what he said were “the same mistakes again” in being “too slow” to protect care home residents – a veiled reference to PPE and hospital discharges.

On Christmas Eve, the Department of Health and Social Care said more than 600,000 people had received their first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, but the roll-out in care homes has been limited to seven areas.

It added larger care homes with 50 to 70 beds would be prioritised first, with around 2,900 care homes of this size in England.

The new variant, which was blamed for soaring rates across the country before the wider imposition of stricter Tier 4 measures in Oxfordshire and swathes of England on Boxing Day, continues to drive high case rates with another 34,693 reported on Saturday.

Cases of the variant strain have been confirmed across Europe including in France, Spain, Denmark, Italy, Iceland, Switzerland, Sweden and the Netherlands, as well as around the globe in Australia, Japan and Lebanon.

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