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HomeWORLDVaccine choice: Pfizer vs. Oxford generates strong opinions in U.K.

Vaccine choice: Pfizer vs. Oxford generates strong opinions in U.K.

The choice is complicated by the fact that there is not supposed to be any choice. There is no private option in Britain for this. The vaccines are bought, distributed and deployed by the state-funded National Health Service, which serves all, rich and poor, free at the point of service — with no one allowed to jump the queue or pick and choose.

The official NHS policy is to take what is offered, or as a spokesman put it: “It will either be Pfizer or Oxford at a site depending on deliveries. People can choose their preferred site but not their vaccine.”

But, as in any system, there are end runs and insider plays, where staffers who work at health clinics, for example, may tip off family and friends to what’s on offer. Some folks have resorted to “hospital hopping,” making or canceling vaccination appointments based on rumors of which shot is being injected where. 

British regulators have said both vaccines are just great. “Both give very high protection against severe disease,” and “both vaccines have good safety profiles,” the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization reported. The government has ordered 140 million doses of those two, plenty to vaccinate the entire adult population of 54 million people by the fall. (Britain has also authorized Moderna’s vaccine, but its 17 million doses won’t begin to arrive until the spring.)

At issue for public health services are: efficacy, cost, supply, ease.

But consumers may also consider nationalism, branding and buzz — what they’ve heard from friends or read on the Internet.

The question of choice hasn’t been much of an issue in the United States, where the two vaccines in use — Pfizer and Moderna — are basically equivalent, both “Made in USA,” both relying on the same technology and producing the same results in clinical trials. A U.S. regulatory decision on Oxford-AstraZeneca is expected in April.

But because the United Kingdom and the European Union have already authorized all three, and because there’s greater distinction between Oxford and the others, some here have formed strong opinions about which they want, and which they don’t.

Pfizer is more expensive, it uses a sexy new platform to deploy messenger RNA, and it appears to work somewhat better at preventing mild to moderate cases.

In clinical trials, with two full doses, Pfizer was 95 percent effective at stopping symptomatic covid-19. So was Moderna. Oxford’s data has been messier. Its trials in the U.K. found it to be 62 percent effective. Using a bit more data, British regulators calculated that a two-dose regimen produces a 70 percent reduction in symptomatic disease. The European Medicines Agency put the number at 60 percent.

On the most-watched public affairs show in Britain, the BBC host Andrew Marr asked the question on many minds: “If I am sitting at home and my doctor rings me up and says, ‘Good news Andrew, we can get you a vaccine!’ At the moment, looking at the results that…

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