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AstraZeneca says its vaccine can take on new UK strain

UK pharma giant AstraZeneca Plc has stated that its Covid-19 vaccine should be effective against the new coronavirus strain as the structure of spike protein has not changed in this variant.

“The AstraZeneca’s vaccine candidate contains the genetic material of the SARS-CoV-2 virus spike protein, and the changes to the genetic code seen in this new viral strain do not appear to change the structure of the spike protein,” a Reuters report quoted an AstraZeneca representative as saying.

The vaccine trains the body’s immune system to recognise many different parts of the spike protein, so that it can eliminate the virus, the company said.

The new virus mutation known as the B.1.1.7 lineage may be up to 70 per cent more infectious and more of a concern for children. It has triggered chaos in Britain as the country has been isolated following a wave of travel bans that have brought trade with Europe to a complete standstill. India has also banned all flights from UK.

AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine is also being manufactured by Pune-based Serum Institute of India (SII) which has approached India’s drug regulator for “emergency approval” again to start marketing the product to fight the war against Covid-19. The company has now submitted updated data as required by the government’s subject expert committee. SII has included full dose efficacy data of the UK trials of the vaccine and safety data from its own phase-3 trials which are being carried out in India.

The vaccine is also under consideration for emergency approval by the UK authorities and Indian officials are in touch with them over the issue. The approval is likely to come through very soon so that the vaccination process kicks off. The UK has already approved the Pfizer vaccine for emergency use and its citizens are being inoculated in accordance with the priority list.

The AstraZeneca-Oxford shot has the advantage of being cheaper and can be stored for long periods at normal refrigerator temperatures so it is easier to handle. The Pfizer vaccine has to be kept in deep freezers at temperatures of -70 degrees making it difficult to transport and administer to the wider population.

Data from AstraZeneca’s late-stage trials in the UK and Brazil released earlier this month showed the vaccine had efficacy of 62 per cent for trial participants given two full doses. But the results for a smaller that was given a half and then a full dose showed a higher efficacy of over 90 per cent. This has caused some delay in rolling out the vaccine.

About 3,000 participants were given the half dose and then a full dose four weeks later, and this regime appeared to provide the most protection or efficacy in the trial at around 90 per cent.

In the larger group of nearly 9,000 volunteers, who were given two full doses also four weeks apart, efficacy was 62 per cent.

AstraZeneca reported these percentages and also said that its vaccine was, on average, 70% effective at preventing Covid-19 illness.

As far as the new strain of the Covid-19 is concerned the co-founder of BioNTech had also said on Tuesday it was "highly likely" that its vaccine developed with Pfizer against the coronavirus works against the mutated strain detected in Britain, but it could also adapt the vaccine if necessary in six weeks.

Scientifically, it is highly likely that the immune response by this vaccine also can deal with the new virus variant," an AFP report quoted Ugur Sahin as saying.

But if needed, "in principle the beauty of the messenger technology is that we can directly start to engineer a vaccine which completely mimics this new mutation – we could be able to provide a new vaccine technically within six weeks," Sahin said..