On Sunday, UK Pharma giant AstraZeneca, who has developed a promising vaccine alongside Oxford University announced that it was working on a tweaked vaccine that would help combat the South African variant of the coronavirus and that the shot would be made available by autumn.
In order to contain the deadly South African variant that is spreading the infection at an alarming rate across the world, and especially in the US, Sarah Gilbert, lead researcher for the Oxford team, told the BBC on Sunday that “we have a version with the South African spike sequence in the works.” “It looks very likely that we can have a new version ready to use in the autumn,” she added.
Gilbert’s comments came shortly after Oxford University said that early data from a small study suggested that the AstraZeneca vaccine offers only “minimal protection” against mild disease caused by the South Africa variant. The study, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, involved 2,000 people, most of whom were young and healthy. The volunteers’ average age was 31. “Protection against moderate-severe disease, hospitalization or death could not be assessed in this study as the target population was at such low risk,” Oxford University said.
As a result of this study, South Africa has suspended plans to inoculate its front-line health care workers with the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. The country got its first 1 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine last week and was expected to begin giving shots to health care workers in mid-February. Other vaccines have been less effective against the variant, but they have provided good protection against death and serious disease.
Britain has seen Europe’s deadliest coronavirus outbreak, with over 112,000 confirmed deaths, but it has embarked on a speedier vaccination plan than the neighboring European Union. Meanwhile, authorities in England last week went house-to-house to administer COVID-19 testing in eight areas where the South Africa variant is believed to be spreading, after a handful of cases were found in people who had no contact with the country or anyone who traveled there. Public health officials are concerned about the South Africa variant especially since it contains a mutation of the virus’s characteristic spike protein, which is targeted by existing vaccines.