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New Oxford vaccine for mutant Covid variants will be ‘ready by autumn’

New Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine ?will be ready to tackle Covid variants by autumn?
A modified version of the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab could be ready by autumn (Pictures: Getty / PA)

A modified version of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, designed for mutant strains of coronavirus, is expected to be ready by autumn.

Scientists initially hoped the updated version of the jab would be ready by next winter.

But they have ramped up efforts after a number of ‘variants of concern’ were identified both in Britain and overseas, sparking fears over the efficacy of the original vaccine.

Head of research and development at the British drug giant AstraZeneca, Sir Mene Pangalos, has revealed how work on an ‘edited version’ of the jab began months ago.

Competitors including Pfizer and Moderna could produce modified vaccines at a faster rate than their British counterpart.

But they may face a crucial decision about which strain to tackle, the Times reports.

A vial of doses of the Oxford University/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine is checked, as the first batch arrives at the Princess Royal Hospital in Haywards Heath, West Sussex. PA Photo. Picture date: Saturday January 2, 2021. The UK has 530,000 doses available for rollout from Monday. See PA story HEALTH Coronavirus. Photo credit should read: Gareth Fuller/PA Wire
A vial of doses of the Oxford University/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine (Picture: PA)
WADEBRIDGE, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 01: Care Home Worker Marie Annn Gynn receiving the AstraZeneca/Oxford Covid-19 vaccination on February 1, 2021 in the vaccination centre at the Royal Cornwall Showground Wadebridge, England. In total 50 large scale vaccination centres are available across England. The latest Government figures for week ending 24th January show that 5,792,159 people across England have received their first dose of the vaccine. (Photo by Hugh Hastings/Getty Images) (Photo by Hugh Hastings/Getty Images)
Care home worker Marie Annn Gynn receiving the AstraZeneca/Oxford Covid-19 vaccination (Picture: Hugh Hastings/Getty Images)

AstraZeneca is said to be confident its current vaccine is effective against the Kent variant, but it is said to be ‘less effective’ against the South African mutant strain.

South African officials are considering swapping or selling its 1.5million doses of the vaccine, after research found it had a ‘minimal effect’ against the country’s variant in young people.

However AstraZeneca says it believes its jab will still prevent serious disease and illness from the strain.

England’s deputy chief medical officer, Jonathan Van Tam, said the South African variant is not expected to become the most dominant in Britain.

But emergency surge-testing is now being deployed in Middlesborough after a case was detected there, it emerged last night, after the strain was found in Stafford on Thursday.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a media briefing in Downing Street, London, on coronavirus (COVID-19). Picture date: Wednesday February 10, 2021. PA Photo. See PA story HEALTH Coronavirus. Photo credit should read: Steve Reigate/Daily Express/PA Wire
Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned Britain could be locked down for even longer if the South African variant continues to spread (Picture: PA)

Boris Johnson warned he would not rule out an extended lockdown if the South African variant continues to spread.

But with daily cases falling significantly and nearly 15million people being offered their first jab, the Prime Minister says that on February 22 he will unveil his roadmap to lift tough restrictions.

When asked about the efficacy of current vaccines against certain strains at a Downing Street press conference earlier this week, Professor Van Tam urged people not to worry.

He said: ‘To people who are kind of on the edge going well “should I have this current vaccine or should I hang on for a South African variant vaccine when it arrives?” – my advice to you is very simple.

Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England Jonathan Van Tam during a media briefing in Downing Street, London, on coronavirus (Covid-19). Picture date: Monday February 8, 2021. PA Photo. See PA story HEALTH Coronavirus. Photo credit should read: Tolga Akmen/PA Wire
England’s deputy chief medical officer, Jonathan Van Tam, urged everyone not to delay getting the vaccine (Picture: PA)

‘Do not delay, have the vaccine that will protect you against the current threat, and don’t worry – you can be revaccinated.’

Defending the current vaccine yesterday, AstraZeneca chief executive Pascal Soriot said: ‘Is it perfect? No, it’s not perfect, but it’s great. Who else is making 100million doses in February?

‘One hundred million doses in February means 100 million vaccinations, which means hundreds of thousands of severe infections that are 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.’

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