AstraZeneca on course to roll out jab for new variants by autumn
Written by Gavin on 11th February 2021
AstraZeneca has said it is on course to roll out a coronavirus vaccine that is effective against new variants by the autumn.
The company, which has produced a COVID-19 vaccine alongside University of Oxford, said clinical trials for the next generation of jab would commence in the spring.
It added that the plan would be to go into mass production in six to nine months.
Speaking as he unveiled AstraZeneca’s annual results, chief executive Pascal Soriot said there should be a drop in hospital admissions “very soon” as a consequence of the UK’s vaccine rollout.
AstraZeneca is set to deliver 100 million doses of its current vaccine around the world this month, doubling to 200 million a month by April.
Mr Soriot said: “100 million doses in February means 100 million vaccinations, which means hundreds of thousands of severe infections avoided and it also means thousands of deaths that are avoided.”
“We’re going to save thousands of lives and that’s why we come to work every day as individuals,” he added.
“Is it perfect? No it’s not perfect, but it’s great. Who else is making 100 million doses in February?” Mr Soriot said on a conference call about the vaccine.
The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is seen as vital in the global fight against COVID-19, because it is easier to transport and store than most of the other vaccines that have been approved.
It is also cheaper – the vaccine’s development partners have said they will provide it on a not-for-profit basis worldwide during the pandemic and also “in perpetuity” for low and middle-income countries.
But the developers have come under pressure recently, including over supply issues in the European Union.
Meanwhile, a study published last week suggested the vaccine may offer limited protection against mild disease caused by the coronavirus variant discovered in South Africa.
The news prompted South Africa to suspend its rollout of the jab.
Approximately 170 cases of the South Africa variant have been detected in the UK so far.
It carries the E484K mutation which experts have suggested may be better at evading the human immune response.
But AstraZeneca has expressed confidence that its vaccine will offer relatively good protection against severe disease and death when it comes to the South African variant.
And the World Health Organisation on Wednesday said the jab can be given to adults of all ages.
The assurance came after a number of countries decided not to give the vaccine to those aged over 65 due to doubts about its effectiveness in that age group.
Oxford vaccine lead researcher Professor Sarah Gilbert has said her team is working on an adapted version of the jab to tackle the South African variant which could be “available for the autumn”.
Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, one of England’s deputy chief medical officers, has said Britons “should not be concerned” that the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine could be less effective against the South African variant.
He said case numbers in the UK are “very small” and it is not likely to become more dominant than other strains.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson told MPs on Wednesday: “I think we’re going to have to get used to the idea of vaccinating and then revaccinating in the autumn, as we come to face these new variants.”
By IRN/SKY News for GTFM