Local Collaboration, Global Impact
With large unvaccinated populations around the globe not only contributing to needless suffering and death, but also acting as incubators of new variants, there are clear mutual benefits to the wide global implementation of an effective vaccination scheme against Covid-19.
No one is safe, unless everyone is safe – this is the tagline of the World Health Organisation’s COVAX initiative, and the statement of intent behind its rolling out of vaccines equitably to people and nations across the world. With large unvaccinated populations around the globe not only contributing to needless suffering and death, but also acting as incubators of new variants, there are clear mutual benefits to the wide global implementation of an effective vaccination scheme against Covid-19.
The UK’s contribution to the worldwide fight against Covid-19 has been considerable, no more so than in the development and delivery of the Vaxzevria vaccine: a collaboration between the Jenner Institute at the University of Oxford, university spin-out company Vaccitech, based at the Harwell Campus in Oxfordshire, and the British multinational pharma company AstraZeneca, headquartered in Cambridge.
While richer countries have looked to the full range of available vaccines in their fight against Covid, the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine has been effectively employed in the vast, dense population centres of India, Brazil and Mexico, and in other countries around the world that desperately need to boost their vaccination rates. Local manufacture – with AstraZeneca now supporting the operation of 25 facilities in 15 countries – is at the heart of delivering the vaccine to those who need it, with AstraZeneca and the Serum Institute in India striking an agreement to independently supply 1 billion doses of the vaccine to poorer countries. The vaccine’s greater resilience and low price makes acquisition and implementation in poorer countries and in more challenging environments more attractive than its rivals.
Estimates from The Economist and Airfinity suggest that to date 2.2 billion doses of the vaccine have been delivered internationally, more than for any other producer, with the vast majority going to countries with the lowest vaccination rates. Statista put the total number of AstraZeneca vaccines ordered through pre-purchase agreements at over 3 billion in March 2021, principally driven by the ability to deliver, to easily store and to transport vaccine without specific infrastructure. Having taken more than its share of political and regulatory knocks on the world stage, the Oxford-AstraZeneca offering may well end up being the most effective in saving lives. For some of the neediest and poorest people in the world, it represents a chance at protection for people who might otherwise have no chance of being vaccinated against Covid-19.
While the vaccine stands to deliver tangible aid internationally, it also underlines some of the fundamental strengths of the UK life sciences industry and the ability of the Oxford-Cambridge Arc to act as the catalyst for ground-breaking research and development.
The Arc has always been the nexus for medical and scientific research for Britain and for the world – it was Howard Florey’s dedicated research team at the University of Oxford that successfully isolated penicillin in 1940 and paved the way for its mass production. Supported by government aid in Britain and the US, the research at Oxford went on to save an estimated 15% of casualties in the Second World War and has continued to save countless others to this day.
Through the collaboration between academia and industry in Oxford and a life sciences multinational headquartered in Cambridge, the benefits of the close spatial dynamics of the Arc become clear.
This is fertile ground for solutions that have a tangible benefit for local communities, for the UK, and for the international community. Just as the world needs to make a concerted effort to beat Covid-19 through mutual effort, the shared purpose and collaboration across the Arc has accelerated the development of a vaccine which is now being delivered to the places of the greatest need. When co-located initiatives work together to research, develop and deliver life sciences solutions, they have the potential not only to contribute tangibly to the regional and UK economy but to strike a blow against debilitating and deadly health issues around the world. This is the secret sauce that lies behind the success of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine: a demonstration of the fundamental collaborative ability and potential of the Arc itself.