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Vaccines against Covid variants will be ready by autumn – AstraZeneca

Photo by Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

By Jane Kirby, PA Health Editor

Vaccines against new coronavirus variants should be ready by October, the team behind the Oxford University/AstraZeneca jab has said.

In a media briefing hosted by AstraZeneca, Professor Andrew Pollard, director of the Oxford vaccine group, said work on designing a new vaccine could be completed rapidly.

It comes after studies have shown that variants of coronavirus with the worrying E484K mutation could make vaccines less effective, though they are still expected to offer good protection against illness and severe disease.

Prof Pollard said: “I think the actual work on designing a new vaccine is very, very quick because it’s essentially just switching out the genetic sequence for the spike protein, for the updated variants.

“And then there’s manufacturing to do and then a small scale study.

“So all of that can be completed in a very short period of time, and the autumn is really the timing for having new vaccines available for use rather than for having the clinical trials run.”

Sir Mene Pangalos, executive vice president of biopharmaceuticals research and development at AstraZeneca, added: “Our ambition is to be ready for the next round of immunisations that may be necessary as we go into next winter. That’s what we’re aiming for.”

He continued: “We’re very much aiming to try and have something ready by the autumn. So, this year.”

Prof Pollard said it was likely that clinical trials on new vaccines for dealing with the variants of Covid-19 would involve “hundreds” of people at the most.

“That’s a discussion which is ongoing with regulators about exactly what the data package is that they would need,” he said.

“The reason why it’s such a small number is because with an updated vaccine, the question is whether immune responses still look the same but against the new variants as they emerge.

“We don’t need to run studies on a large scale to prove efficacy. And so that’s why they’re much quicker and much smaller to conduct.”

It comes after Health Secretary Matt Hancock said data from Oxford showing its vaccine could substantially cut transmission “will help us all to get out of this pandemic”.

He hailed the new analysis as “absolutely superb” after results showed the jab offers 76% protection up to three months after the first dose and could reduce transmission.

Cutting transmission is the key to lifting the most severe restrictions of lockdown more quickly and means infection levels could come down faster than they would otherwise.

Mr Hancock told BBC Breakfast: “We know from earlier trials that the vaccines are safe and effective at protecting the individual.

“We now know that the Oxford vaccine also reduces transmission and that will help us all to get out of this pandemic, frankly, which is why it is such good news that we should welcome.”

He told Times Radio the numbers of people in hospital was coming down and deaths would drop. Mr Hancock added the Oxford data suggested “we can have a high degree of confidence that that will come down quickly”.

He also said the data showing that delaying the second dose of the vaccine by up to 12 weeks could increase its efficacy “categorically” supported the Government’s strategy of stretching the time limit between doses.

“This Oxford report is very good news, it backs the strategy that we’ve taken and it shows the world that the Oxford vaccine works effectively,” he told Sky News.

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