AstraZeneca withdraws Covid-19 vaccine worldwide due to oversupply

AstraZeneca has made a global announcement: the withdrawal of its anti-Covid-19 vaccine, Vaxzevria, and the consequent withdrawal of marketing authorizations in Europe. A drastic decision that makes us reflect on the impact on the vaccination campaign and on public health.

Why the Astrazeneca vaccine was withdrawn from the market

In a statement, AstraZeneca explained that the decision has been made because a variety of newer vaccines, adapted to fight Covid-19 variants, are now available.

“According to independent estimates, over 6.5 million lives were saved in the first year of use and over 3 billion doses were delivered globally,” the statement read.

The main motivation behind this withdrawal therefore appears to lie in the reduced demand and excess of Covid-19 vaccines available on the market. According to AstraZeneca, the emergence of variants of the virus has led to the development of numerous updated vaccines, creating a surplus of available sera. This surplus has significantly decreased demand for Vaxzevria, making its production and supply no longer sustainable.

This move follows a previous announcement in March, where AstraZeneca decided to stop marketing the Covid-19 vaccine in the European Union. The decision was further supported by the notice issued by the European Medicines Agency, which stated that the vaccine is no longer authorized for use.

Other countries have already stopped providing the vaccine. It has not been available in Australia since March 2023, although its use was already being reduced by June 2021 due to the widespread availability of newer vaccines.

Vaxzevria is the name of the AstraZeneca vaccine

AstraZeneca had changed the name of its Covid vaccine to Vaxzevria in 2021. The vaccine was authorized for use in people over 18, given in two injections, usually in the upper arm muscle, about three months apart . It was also used by some countries as a booster.

Vaxzevria is composed of another virus from the adenovirus family modified to contain the gene for the production of a protein from SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19. The vaccine does not contain the virus itself and cannot cause the virus.

Side effects of the vaccine

While it was considered safe and effective overall, it carried the risk of a rare but serious side effect, known as thrombosis with thrombocytopenia, or TTS. The rare syndrome has occurred in approximately two to three people out of 100,000 who have been vaccinated with the Vaxzevria vaccine.

The withdrawal of the vaccine also comes in conjunction with a lawsuit in Londonbrought by family members of British citizens who died as a result of blood clots, allegedly related to the AstraZeneca product.

Despite everything, Vaxzevria has generally been deemed safe and effective in the fight against Covid-19. But, the appearance of such a rare but serious risk has led to a more thorough evaluation of the risks and benefits associated with the vaccine.

The problem of global vaccinations

The announcement of Vaxzevria's withdrawal has put a spotlight on several issues surrounding the global vaccination campaign. With Vaxzevria off the market, the availability of Covid-19 vaccines could reduce, especially in developing or resource-limited countries. Furthermore, this withdrawal could affect public confidence in vaccines, generating concerns about the safety and effectiveness of available products.

The latest advice on Covid-19 vaccines issued by the World Health Organization in April advised that Covid-19 vaccine formulations should target the Jn.1 lineage of the virus, which is replacing existing Xbb lineage variants.