AstraZeneca withdraws COVID-19 vaccine, citing declining demand

The drugmaker is pulling the shot from all markets, ending a turbulent saga that saw it successfully develop a coronavirus shot but struggle to sell it.

Dive Brief:

  • AstraZeneca will no longer manufacture or supply its COVID-19 vaccine Vaxzevria, announcing Tuesday it is voluntarily withdrawing the shot due to a “decline in demand,” a spokesperson wrote in an email to BioPharma Dive. 
  • Prior to the announcement, the company had already taken steps to pull Vaxzevria from the market in Europe. It submitted a withdrawal request there in March which took effect on May 7. 
  • The decision to withdraw the vaccine comes just after the company reported plummeting yearly sales for Vaxzevria, and reportedly admitted in court documents that the shot can cause a rare side effect that leads to a combination of blood clots and low platelet levels. AstraZeneca didn’t mention safety concerns as a reason for the vaccine’s withdrawal, however.  

Dive Insight:

Like other companies that successfully developed a coronavirus shot during the pandemic, AstraZeneca is grappling with a seismic shift in the market.

No longer are COVID vaccines the surefire top-selling products they were in 2021 and 2022. Developers have been forced to recast financial projections while turning their attention to yearly booster shots targeting emerging viral variants. 

In that race, however, Pfizer and Moderna, which each developed newer shots, are the leaders. Both still generated billions of dollars in COVID vaccine sales in 2023. AstraZeneca, by comparison, reported only $12 million in Vaxzevria sales last year, a near-complete fall from the $1.8 billion the vaccine generated in 2022. 

“As multiple, variant COVID-19 vaccines have since been developed there is a surplus of available updated vaccines. This has led to a decline in demand for Vaxzervria, which is no longer being manufactured or supplied,” the AstraZeneca spokesperson wrote. 

The decision marks the end of an up and down saga for AstraZeneca, which was one of the first companies to bring a COVID vaccine to market, but struggled to sell it due to competition and the emergence of rare, but serious side effects. 

The company developed Vaxzevria with the help of the University of Oxford and, despite early questions about its effectiveness, won clearances in Europe, the U.K. and many other countries. But researchers then began to observe a possible link between the shot and a rare, but potentially fatal side effect, causing some countries to temporarily pause its rollout. AstraZeneca also never filed for approval in the U.S. 

Still, Vaxzevria played a notable part in the fight against the coronavirus. The spokesperson noted that some 6.5 million lives were saved in its first year of use alone and over 3 billion doses were supplied globally.  

“We are incredibly proud of the role Vaxzevria played in ending the global pandemic,” the spokesperson wrote.

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