Covid-19 vaccine with a syringe
AstraZeneca is stopping production of its Covid-19 vaccine due to reduced demand. Photo credit: Towfiqu barbhuiya

AstraZeneca’s decision to suspend its Covid-19 vaccine makes ‘perfect commercial sense’, according to one Nottingham academic.

The company announced on Tuesday (May 7) that the vaccine Vaxzevria would be withdrawn following a decline in demand.

Prof John Hunt of Nottingham Trent University, whose research field is developing medical technologies, said that because the virus genetically morphs into new variants, the latest of which is FLiRT, it meant new vaccines were always going to be needed.

AstraZeneca was one of the main Covid-19 vaccines first rolled out to the UK public to tackle the pandemic in January 2021 and has been given to more than 2.5bn people globally.

Despite its past success, Professor Hunt, Strategic Research Theme Lead at NTU, said it was logical for the pharmaceutical giant to cease production.

“With the new emerging variants of Covid-19, you don’t need each vaccine at the billions of doses scale anymore, which is what AstraZeneca does and is brilliant at,” said Hunt. “So the scale of Covid-19 vaccines now doesn’t really fit with AstraZeneca’s business model.”

He said it did not mean that Covid-19 vaccines were becoming less relevant, just more suited to other companies for production.

“There are enough other companies who can more easily adapt production at a different rate to keep up with the new variants and produce millions or hundreds of thousands of a vaccine.

‘AstrAZeneca don’t need to get into that space, there are other vaccines that need to be produced now for which they can take the lead’

The AstraZeneca vaccine was no longer in use in the UK, as the government excluded it from the Covid-19 booster vaccine programme, launched in September 2022.

This decision was reportedly because alternate vaccines Moderna and Pfizer were more effective, rather than due to the rumoured side-effects associated with AstraZeneca.

Concerns were raised about the vaccines safety after rare cases of blood clots had were suspected to be associated with the AstraZeneca vaccine. However, the European Medicines Agency (EMA), who accredits medicines in the EU, found that these were not side effects of Vaxzevria.

Hunt disagrees with overly focusing on statistically unlikely side effects associated with medical treatments such as vaccines.

He said: “It’s not reasonable to expect healthcare businesses to provide something that’s 100% safe when just walking down the street comes with a risk. It’s the perfection that we should always aspire to, but in reality it’s unlikely.

‘Rather than beat up an individual inventor or supplier we should look at the real numbers for and against a treatment and, if there are other approaches with less risk, move to those’

Booster Covid-19 vaccines are available in the UK to those aged 75+, or with a weakened immune system. 

For those who aren’t eligible for this, Hunt advised: “The single biggest change we can make to our own health is our personal choices and we all know that. We have a fantastic NHS and the best way for us to help right now is to just do a bit more to look after ourselves.”