AstraZeneca Withdraws Covid Vaccine Worldwide, Citing Low Demand

The shot is no longer being manufactured or supplied, and it is no longer authorized for use in Europe.

A close-up of person’s hands administering a dose of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine.
A patient received a dose of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine in Budapest in 2021. Demand for the company’s shot has plummeted in recent years.Credit…Akos Stiller for The New York Times

Rebecca Robbins

AstraZeneca has started to pull its Covid-19 vaccine from global markets because of low demand, the pharmaceutical giant said. The decision closes the chapter on a shot that was widely used in the early stages of vaccination drives in many parts of the world before being supplanted by rivals that were better suited to take on an evolving virus.

The move was not related to any concerns about the shot’s side effects, the company said.

Since the vaccine was approved in Britain in December 2020, over three billion doses have been supplied globally. But in the past few years, demand has plummeted as other manufacturers have released shots tailored to newer variants and countries have opted to use those. AstraZeneca’s shot, which was developed with Oxford University, is no longer being manufactured or supplied.

The company said it had decided to voluntarily withdraw all licenses to market its Covid vaccine. That process began months ago, and very few active licenses remain, the company said. The Telegraph in Britain earlier reported the decision on Tuesday.

In March, AstraZeneca requested that the vaccine be withdrawn from most European countries. The European Commission approved the move, which went into effect this week.

Sheena Cruickshank, an immunologist at the University of Manchester, said the company’s decision to pull the shot was “not a surprise.” Unlike other manufacturers, AstraZeneca did not update its shot to target emerging virus variants because it used a vaccine technology, known as a viral vector, that was less amenable to such changes.

“There was just a recognition that it wasn’t going to be a vaccine that could continue to evolve for what we need now, and that it wasn’t really useful now because the SARS-CoV-2 virus has changed too much,” Dr. Cruickshank said.

In clinical trials, AstraZeneca’s shot did not perform as well in preventing Covid as Pfizer’s and Moderna’s shots did in their own studies, but AstraZeneca’s still proved highly effective in preventing serious illness and death from the virus.

Concerns about a link between AstraZeneca’s shot and an extremely rare but serious blood clotting disorder contributed to less demand for the vaccine. Its product information was updated in April 2021 to include risks about the potential side effect. AstraZeneca’s vaccine was cheaper and easier to transport and store than its competitors. It became the predominant vaccine used in developing countries for much of 2021, when shots from Pfizer and Moderna were mostly going to wealthy nations.

Kim Blomley, an AstraZeneca spokesman, said the company was “incredibly proud” of the vaccine’s role in ending the coronavirus pandemic.

The vaccine was distributed in more than 170 countries, and most of its doses were administered in 2021. It was never administered in the United States outside clinical trials.

Roy Walsh

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