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AstraZeneca chief believes vaccine will work against UK virus strain

By Caitlin Doherty, PA

The head of the firm behind the Oxford vaccine has said researchers believe the jab will remain effective against the variant strain of the virus first found in the UK.

But AstraZeneca chief executive Pascal Soriot told the Sunday Times more tests were needed to be sure, while he hailed the discovery of what he called a “winning formula” to improve the jab’s efficacy.

Speaking as at least a dozen countries reported cases of the mutated virus, he said: “So far, we think the vaccine should remain effective. But we can’t be sure, so we’re going to test that.”

The Government has ordered 100 million doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, with around 40 million available by the end of March.

There have been some concerns the Oxford vaccine may not be as good as preventing symptomatic disease as the other vaccines such as the one by Pfizer already being distributed.

Mr Soriot said: “We think we have figured out the winning formula and how to get efficacy that, after two doses, is up there with everybody else.

“I can’t tell you more because we will publish at some point.”

Of the figures already released showing up to 90% effectiveness in those given a half dose followed by a full dose, he told The Sunday Times: “We would have preferred a simpler set of results, but overall we thought these are positive, they meet the criteria established by regulators around the world.”

“We assumed people would be a bit disappointed, that’s for sure,” he went on.

“But we didn’t expect that storm.”

AstraZeneca’s publication of the unexpected results, and the temporary halting of its trials, reportedly caused concern at the country’s Food and Drug Administration, which approves vaccines.

His comments come as the Sunday Telegraph reports the Oxford jab could be rolled out en masse from a few days into the New Year.

According to the newspaper, the Government hopes that the approval could mean more than two million could receive their first dose of a coronavirus vaccine within a fortnight, with doses of the Oxford medicine available from January 4.

A government spokesperson said: “The medicines regulator is reviewing the final data from the University of Oxford/AstraZeneca phase three clinical trials to determine whether the vaccine meets their strict standards of quality, safety and effectiveness.

“We must now give the MHRA the time to carry out its important work and we must wait for its advice.”