They said the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine has similar efficacy against the Kent strain, also known as B.1.1.7, as variants which had previously arrived in the UK, according to ongoing research which has not yet been peer reviewed by other academics.
It also cuts the time period that people with the Kent strain shed the virus and the viral load, which could mean lower transmission of the disease.
Andrew Pollard, Professor of Paediatric Infection and Immunity and Chief Investigator on the Oxford vaccine trial, said:
“Data from our trials of the ChAdOx1 vaccine in the United Kingdom indicate that the vaccine not only protects against the original pandemic virus, but also protects against the novel variant, B.1.1.7, which caused the surge in disease from the end of 2020 across the UK.”
Boris Johnson has so far stuck to a target that schools may start to reopen from March 8. Foreign Office minister James Cleverly refused to be drawn on whether this timescale could be speeded up but said it appeared that “things are heading in the right direction” to at least meet the March 8 date.
The new research revealed vaccinated people had lower concentrations of neutralising antibodies against the Kent variant but the protection was still broadly similar as against the Wuhan strain. The Kent variant is the dominant strain in London and fuelled the second surge in cases.
The findings are the first in relation to the efficacy of the Oxford vaccine against new variants.
Vaccine researchers are already examining how to modify the existing vaccines quickly to protect against new mutations.
Sarah Gilbert, Professor of Vaccinology, and Chief Investigator on the Oxford vaccine trial, said: “Coronaviruses are less prone to mutation than influenza viruses, but we have always expected that as the pandemic continues, new variants will begin to become dominant amongst the viruses that are circulating and that eventually a new version of the vaccine, with an updated spike protein, would be required to maintain vaccine efficacy at the highest level possible.
“We are working with AstraZeneca to optimise the pipeline required for a strain change should one become necessary. This is the same issue that is faced by all of the vaccine developers, and we will continue to monitor the emergence of new variants that arise in readiness for a future strain change.”
Research published earlier this week, which also is yet to be peer reviewed, showed the Oxford jab gave 76 per cent protection during the three months after the first dose, which increased to 82 per cent after people were given the second dose. The vaccine also prevents hospitalisations and deaths from the virus. The UK’s medicines regulator, the MHRA, today confirmed that the Pfizer and Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid vaccines were safe, with few adverse reactions among the first 7.4 million doses given across the country.
The MHRA said it had received 22,820 “yellow card” reports of suspected side effects by January 24, a reporting rate of three per 1,000 doses. For both vaccines, the overwhelming majority of reports related to complaints about a sore arm or flu-like illness, headache, tiredness, nausea or fever.
The reports included 49,472 suspected incidents after people received the Pfizer jab and 21,032 after the Oxford jab, which has been in use for less time.
Dr June Raine, MHRA chief executive, said: “The data we have collected provides further reassurance that the Covid-19 vaccines are safe and continue to meet the rigorous regulatory standards required for all vaccines. We remain confident that the benefits of these vaccines outweigh any risks.”
The Oxford scientists are also working to discover how effective their jab is against the South African variant, which is believed to have started to spread in the UK and against which the Government has ordered emergency measures. In other developments:
The Standard understands that people in their sixties are now being offered jabs at several locations in London, as health chiefs seek to speed up the roll-out while in parallel continuing to try to get people aged 70 and over who are harder to reach, possibly because of vaccine “hesitancy”, to have it.
Mr Cleverly appeared to confirm that some form of vaccination certificate or “passport” may be issued so that people can travel abroad. He said: “It’s often the case that the entry requirement for countries for vaccinations or inoculations and that is not an uncommon practice and obviously we will work with international partners to help facilitate their border arrangements and their immigration arrangements as they bring them in.” He added that the Government would ensure British citizens knew what they would need to enter countries imposing restrictions.
West London has become the capital’s Covid-19 hotspot, with the four boroughs with a seven-day Covid rate still above 400 new cases per 100,000 in the week to January 30 being Ealing, Hounslow, Brent and Hillingdon.
MPs are urging Londoners to redouble their efforts to push through the “final mile” of crushing the second wave which public health chiefs say is the hardest as the people who still need to be protected are often those least able to avoid the virus such as key workers.
Mr Johnson is coming under increasing pressure for schools to return before March 8 and for other restrictions to be lifted swiftly afterwards, with reports that outdoor sports and socialising are set to be among the first activities permitted as lockdown is eased.
However, scientists are urging the Prime Minister not to lift restrictions too quickly and risk another lockdown.
Dr Mike Tildesley, from the University of Warwick and a member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling, told Times Radio that it was important “to avoid a yo-yo situation where we unwrap things too rapidly, we get a resurgence and we have to lock down again”.
— to www.standard.co.uk