AstraZeneca is racing to adapt to a Covid vaccine while South Africa has discontinued its launch

The dose of the University of Oxford / AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine displayed from its box at the Royal Princess Hospital in Haywards Heath, West Sussex, UK on January 2, 2021.

Gareth Fuller | Reuters

Drug maker AstraZeneca It is racing to adapt the Covid-19 vaccine in the face of new variants of the virus, as the process became more urgent after a small-scale study found it was less effective in protecting against the more deadly strain discovered in South Africa.

The state said it would suspend the use of the injection in the vaccination program After a study published on Sunday that has not yet been reviewed, it found that the vaccine provides “minimal protection” against mild to moderate disease caused by the South African alternative.

Researchers from the University of the Witwatersrand and others in South Africa and the University of Oxford noted that the study was small, and only involved about 2,000 volunteers with an average age of 31. “Protection from moderate-to-severe disease, hospitalization or death could not be assessed in this study because the target population was at low risk,” Oxford University said.

Vaccine makers have already started developing second-generation vaccines for Covid aimed at targeting new types of the virus, and experts say it should not be too difficult to adjust existing vaccines to cover mutations, and they can be adapted within six weeks.

Sarah Gilbert, a professor of vaccinology at the University of Oxford, who developed the vaccine with AstraZeneca, commented Sunday that “efforts are underway to develop a new generation of vaccines that will allow protection to be redirected to emerging variants such as booster vaccines, if it turns out it is necessary to do so.”

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“We are working with AstraZeneca to improve the pipeline required to change the strain if it becomes necessary. This is the same problem that all vaccine developers face, and we will continue to monitor the emergence of new variants that arise in preparation for changing stress in the future.”

The variant, officially known as the B.1.351 mutation, was first detected in South Africa in October 2020 and has been prevalent in the country since then.

Several cases have been found elsewhere as well, prompting health authorities to strive to stop the spread of the mutation that has proven more contagious. There have already been concerns that this variant could be more resistant to coronavirus vaccines that were developed over the past year.

Since it has suspended the use of the AstraZeneca-Oxford University injection, the South African government will offer vaccines produced by Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer instead.

In late January, Johnson & Johnson reported That a single dose dose was 57% effective in one of its clinical trials in South Africa where nearly all cases of Covid-19 (95%) were due to variant B.1.351 infection. For comparison, the vaccine was found to be 72% effective in the US arm of the trial.

Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna They both reported early indications Be vaccinated It provides protection against new known variants of the virus, And those in South Africa and the United Kingdom

The University of Oxford on Friday released details of a separate study that showed its vaccine was effective against a type of virus that was first discovered in southeast England, which is now the dominant strain in the UK.

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The data from his vaccine trials in the United Kingdom “indicates that the vaccine not only protects against the original pandemic virus, but it also protects against the novel,” said Andrew Pollard, professor of pediatric infection and immunology and lead researcher of the Oxford vaccine trial. Since the end of 2020, the disease has increased throughout the UK.

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