Leading pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, which is conducting Phase 3 trials of its candidate with the UK's Oxford University, has the right to declare the end of the pandemic as early as July 2021, if all its vaccination plans go well.
Notably, the company has vowed to not book any profit from its COVID-19 vaccine "during the pandemic" but it can consider the pandemic over by July 2021, following which it won't be bound to 'no-profit' promise.
AstraZeneca and many other leading pharma companies have received billions of dollars of public money to develop their COVID-19 vaccines at the earliest. Other companies that are producing COVID-19 vaccines have also signed pacts with governments across the world on different terms. Some have said they can't produce the vaccine on a non-profit basis, while others like AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson will provide doses on a "cost basis" during the COVID-19 pandemic. Nonetheless, the future cost of the vaccine could become a contentious issue.
In India too, the Serum Institute of India (SII) has partnered with AstraZeneca and the vaccine trials have reached the 2/3 phase in the country.
As per an agreement signed between AstraZeneca and Brazil's public health institution Fiocrux, the pharma giant will produce 100 million doses worth $300 million for the institution till July 2021 when the "definitive pact" will end. AstraZeneca has also received over $1 billion from the US government for its vaccination programme.
The company can extend the agreement but only in "good faith" and if it considers that COVID-19 pandemic is not over, the deal document accessed by Financial Times says.
But how will AstraZeneca know when the pandemic is over? As per Pascal Soriot, AstraZeneca's chief executive, it would depend on various factors, including the World Health Organisation's view of the pandemic.
"From the outset, AstraZeneca's approach has been to treat the development of the vaccine as a response to a global public health emergency, not a commercial opportunity...we continue to operate in that public spirit and we will seek expert guidance, including from global organisations, as to when we can say that the pandemic is behind us," the company said in a statement, reported Financial Times.
Meanwhile, AstraZeneca has not answered critical questions around its agreements with health institutions and governments, including 'post-pandemic price and pandemic period'.
The COVID-19 virus was declared as a pandemic in March by the WHO. So far, over 10,00,000 people have already died due to the virus and countries like India are still reporting the high number of cases per day. Even the most optimistic forecasts say the vaccine rollout after all necessary approvals can't be available for the public before mid-2021.