AstraZeneca vaccine being tweaked to fight S. Africa variant

The lead researcher of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine says she expects to have a modified jab to cope with the South Africa coronavirus variant by the autumn

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.

Her comments came as 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.

“Protection against moderate-severe disease, hospitalization or death could not be assessed in this study as the target population were at such low risk,” Oxford University said.

Robin Shattock, a scientist who is leading the coronavirus vaccine research at Imperial College London, urged caution about the study’s early findings. But he said it was “concerning to some extent that we’re seeing that it’s not effective against mild or moderate disease.”

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 travelled there.

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. So far the U.K. has given a first coronavirus vaccine jab to about 11.5 million people.

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