Why popular Covid vaccine has been pulled off the market

A nurse vaccinates a patient against Covid-19 in June 2022. [Wilberforce Okwiri, Standard]

Following the announcement on the withdrawal of the AstraZeneca vaccine from the global market, there have been muted grumbling over its safety, with a huge number of Kenyans having received it at the height of Covid-19 pandemic. While the grouse is justified, the fear is not. After all, it followed the recall of Benylin cough syrup a few weeks ago.

There is a very thin line between severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), flu and Covid-19 behaviour.

The strains or variants of the three diseases keep on changing from time to time and vaccines to combat and control them must be formulated or upgraded from time to time to be effective, safe and efficacious.

This formulation of the vaccines means that a new vaccine must be manufactured or developed to treat the emerging and circulating variants.

The brand of the vaccines is usually retained by the company manufacturing them but the composition must be different. So, it does not make economic sense for a vaccine manufacturer to continue using money to manufacture new Covid-19 vaccines while the disease is now dormant and poses no threat to the global community. 

“Once a patent’s registration has expired or run out of protection period, other players in the pharmaceutical industry are allowed to manufacture a cost-effective version of the original product and this could be one of the hidden reasons why AstraZeneca was withdrawing its Covid-19 vaccine from the global market”, says Lydia Kasera, a Kenyan based in the United Kingdom.

It is just a game plan and business acumen (being) at play here, read finance or money being at the centre of this withdrawal,” adds Kasera.

As Covid-19 infection rates drastically tapered off, many countries - including Kenya - still stock AstraZeneca vaccine. To continue manufacturing more vaccine doses does not make any economic and business sense at all, since even global stocks might end up being a waste. 

 AstraZeneca, Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna were among the first Covid-19 vaccines to hit the global market, apart from the Russian-made Sputnik V.  AstraZeneca was the first to arrive in Kenya and is said to have saved the lives of nearly seven million people with over three billion doses administered.

Since multiple-variant Covid-19 vaccines have since been developed, there is a surplus of available newly formulated vaccines from competing companies such as Pfizer and Moderna, which are more effective against the new strains compared to the original vaccine.

 Vaxzevria, just like other medical products, had all the side effects such as nausea, and joint pain among others.

“It is also linked to thrombosis or blood clots but this was too minimal,” says Dr Joseph Aluoch, a vaccine specialist and medical consultant at The Nairobi Hospital. 

 However, the research shows that these blood clots were reported in just two to three people out of 100,000 recipients. Hence, this cannot be the basis for withdrawing AstraZeneca jabs from the market. 

“Vaccines also have certain risks. The most important question is whether the benefits of the treatment outweigh the risks”, says another vaccine specialist Dr Moses Mwangi.

Local doctors say what is now needed is a booster jab from Pfizer or Moderna to adults aged over 75 years and those with underlying conditions.

Kenya Simbas hammer Senegal to reach Rugby Africa Cup semis
Chepngetich set to lead Kenyan charge in Chicago Marathon
Paris Olympics 2024: Julius Yego aims to retire in style at the Olympics
Kenya Simba upbeat ahead of Senegal duel in Rugby Africa Cup