Covid: Oxford jab offers less S Africa variant protection

Published7 FebruaryShareRelated Topics

https://emp.bbc.com/emp/SMPj/2.39.19/iframe.htmlmedia captionProf Sarah Gilbert said the new version of the vaccine “will be available for the autumn”

Oxford-AstraZeneca’s vaccine offers “minimal protection” against mild disease from the South Africa variant, scientists say early trials suggest.

A new study, not yet peer reviewed, involved about 2,000 people who were on average 31 years old.

But Prof Sarah Gilbert, Oxford lead vaccine developer, said vaccines should still protect against severe disease.

She said developers were likely to have a modified Oxford jab by the autumn to combat the South Africa variant.

South Africa has said it is putting its rollout of the Oxford vaccine on temporary hold, while scientists advise on the best way to proceed following the results of the study.

The variant, also known as 501.V2 or B.1.351, is already the dominant virus variant in large parts of South Africa.

Earlier, vaccine minister Nadhim Zahawi told the BBC’s Andrew Marr that a booster in the autumn and annual vaccines could be required to combat variants.

More than 100 cases of the South Africa variant have been found in the UK.

A study outlining early trials, first reported by the Financial Times, suggests the vaccine offered “minimal protection” against mild and moderate disease caused by the variant, the University of Oxford said.

Prof Gilbert told the Andrew Marr Show current vaccines “have a reduction in efficacy against some of the variant viruses”.

“What that is looking like is that we may not be reducing the total number of cases but there’s still protection in that case against deaths, hospitalisations and severe disease.”

She added: “That’s really important for healthcare systems, even if we are having mild and asymptomatic infections, to prevent people going into hospital with Covid would have a major effect.”

Meanwhile, Mr Zahawi said the UK government had ruled out issuing so-called “vaccine passports” to enable people who have had the jab against coronavirus to travel abroad.

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Analysis box by James Gallagher, health and science correspondent

This isn’t a complete surprise.

The mutation involved – known as E484K – seems to help the virus dodge immunity built up to previous variants and current vaccines.

Real world trials of two other vaccines (Janssen and Novavax) showed a dip in performance in South Africa too.

This is the same mutation that has also appeared in some cases of the “Kent variant” in the UK.

We are still waiting for scientists to publish their report in order to find out what “limited” means in hard numbers.

If people are still getting sick, even if it’s mild, then they can spread the virus and that will make it harder to get on top of cases.

If the Oxford vaccine can prevent severe disease, and AstraZeneca thinks it will, then it would still be a life-saving vaccine.

But it is clear coronavirus is a moving target and that we may need to change vaccines in the future to keep up.

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In a separate statement, AstraZeneca said the jab offered “limited” protection against mild and moderate disease caused by the variant.

A spokesman for the pharmaceutical company said it had not yet been able to properly establish whether the jab would prevent severe disease and hospitalisation caused by the South Africa variant because those involved in the study had predominantly been young, healthy adults.

But the company expressed confidence the vaccine would offer protection against serious cases, because it created neutralising antibodies similar to those of other coronavirus vaccines.

The study, which assessed a two-dose regimen, is due to be published on Monday.

Andrew Pollard, professor of paediatric infection and immunity and chief investigator on the Oxford vaccine trial, said: “This study confirms that the pandemic coronavirus will find ways to continue to spread in vaccinated populations, as expected, but, taken with the promising results from other studies in South Africa using a similar viral vector, vaccines may continue to ease the toll on health care systems by preventing severe disease.”

In a news conference on Sunday, Prof Shabir Madhi, who has led trials for the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine in South Africa, said the study had been “largely disappointing” in terms of the jab’s efficacy against the South Africa variant.

“Unfortunately, the AstraZeneca vaccine does not work against mild and moderate illness,” he said, adding that the data did not say whether or not the vaccine might still protect at least against severe infections.

Earlier, Prof Madhi said a vaccine developed by Janssen showed it stopped moderate to severe disease, rather than all disease, and this kept people out of hospital.

“These findings recalibrate thinking about how to approach the pandemic virus and shift the focus from the goal of herd immunity against transmission to the protection of all at-risk individuals in population against severe disease,” Prof Madhi added.

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On Saturday, AstraZeneca said its vaccine provided good protection against the variant first discovered in Kent, which is now dominant in the UK.

Early results suggest the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine protects against the new variants.

Data on two new coronavirus vaccines that could be approved soon – one from Novavax and another from Janssen – appear to offer some protection.

And early results from Moderna suggest its vaccine is still effective against the South Africa variant.

Experts say vaccines could be redesigned and tweaked to be a better match for new variants in a matter of weeks or months if necessary.

Chart showing the number of first vaccine doses received in the UK
  • Meanwhile, workplace Covid testing is being offered to more companies in England and GPs will be paid an additional £10 by the NHS for every housebound patient they vaccinate
  • As of Friday more than 11.5 million people had received a first dose
  • Latest figures showed another 828 people in the UK have died within 28 days of a positive Covid test, and there were a further 18,262 cases.
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Moderna Covid 19 Vaccine

Posted by Cheri Lucas RowlandsPhoto by RADEK MICA/AFP via Getty Images

As David Heath and Gus Garcia-Roberts report in their gripping story at USA Today, credit for the swift development of the COVID-19 vaccine goes to an unheralded team of scientists and a series of pivotal discoveries in the last 15 years, all of which paved the way for the Moderna vaccine. Barney Graham is the deputy director of the Vaccine Research Center at the National Institutes of Health. He’s dedicated his career to studying viruses and developing vaccine candidates, most recently for the mosquito-borne Zika virus, which reached the U.S. in 2016, and later Nipah, the virus spread by bats that broke out in India in 2018 (and inspired the movie Contagion). It’s Graham’s years-long effort  — and the work of “a constellation of unsung scientists” including Jason McLellan and Kizzmekia Corbett — that put the pieces in place for Moderna’s rapid turnaround.

Not only is Heath and Garcia-Roberts’ piece a compelling read, it’s very accessible in its explanations and illustrations on how SARS-CoV-2 attacks and infects the human body, and how the Moderna vaccine actually works.

As Graham got word through back channels that the new virus in China was probably a coronavirus, he reached out to Moderna’s CEO, who was vacationing in France. We should scratch the Nipah plan, he urged Stephane Bancel in a Jan. 6 email, in favor of a different proof of concept related to the Wuhan outbreak.

“If it’s a SARS-like coronavirus, we know what to do,” Graham wrote. “This would be a great time to run the drill for how quickly can you have a scalable vaccine.”

Graham later laid out the idea for Fauci, his boss’s boss, in a conference room at NIH. Fauci is no micromanager; he hadn’t even been aware until then how confident Graham was in his ability to make a coronavirus vaccine.

There had been two other novel coronaviruses since 2003, although neither SARS nor MERS were terribly contagious and neither became pandemics. In early January, there was no reason to assume COVID-19 would be any different. Yet Graham already had his team diving into how to defeat the new coronavirus just to prove it could be done. Fauci was sold.

“Let’s go full-blown,” he said. “Let’s make a vaccine.”

Fauci had already set aside $5 million for the small Nipah demonstration project. Graham asked if there would there be millions more available.

“Barney, let me worry about the money,” Fauci replied.

If everything went perfectly, Graham said a vaccine could be ready within 12 to 18 months – the prediction Fauci would soon make public.

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