The United States has secured almost a third of the first 1 billion doses planned for AstraZeneca’s experimental COVID-19 vaccine by pledging up to $1.2 billion (981 million pounds), as world powers scramble for medicines to get their economies back to work.

While not yet proven to be effective against the coronavirus, vaccines are seen by world leaders as the only real way to restart their stalled economies, and even to get an edge over global competitors.

After President Donald Trump demanded a vaccine, the US Department of Health and Human Services agreed to provide up to $1.2 billion to accelerate British drug-maker AstraZeneca’s (AZN.L) vaccine development and secure 300 million doses for the United States.

“This contract with AstraZeneca is a major milestone in Operation Warp Speed’s work toward a safe, effective, widely available vaccine by 2021,” US Health Secretary Alex Azar said.

The vaccine, previously known as ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 and now as AZD1222, was developed by the University of Oxford and licensed to AstraZeneca. Immunity to the new coronavirus is uncertain and so the use of vaccines is unclear.

The US deal allows a late-stage, or Phase III, clinical trial of the vaccine with 30 000 people in the United States.

 

Now the most valuable company on Britain’s blue-chip FTSE 100 Index, AstraZenecahas already agreed to deliver 100 million doses to people in Britain, with 30 million as soon as September.

Ministers have promised Britain will get first access to the vaccine.

Vaccine Scramble

With leaders across the world surveying some of the worst economic destruction since at least World War Two and the deaths of more than 327 000 people, many are scrambling for a vaccine.

The US government has struck deals to support vaccine development with Johnson & Johnson (J&J) (JNJ.N), Moderna (MRNA.O) and Sanofi (SASY.PA), sparking fears the richest countries will be able to protect their citizens first.

Sanofi’s chief angered the French government earlier this month when he said vaccine doses produced in the United States could go to US patients first, given the country had supported the research financially.

“We have a lot of things happening on the vaccine front or the therapeutic front,” Trump told reporters at the White House when asked about the AstraZenca announcement. “You’re going to have a lot of big announcements over the next week or two” on therapeutics.