AstraZeneca says vaccine against new Covid variants may take six months

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AstraZeneca has said it could take between six and nine months to produce Covid-19 vaccines that are effective against new variants of the coronavirus, and begin administering them to the public.

The company’s vaccine, developed jointly with scientists at the University of Oxford, remains effective against the original virus and at least one variant, first discovered in Kent, England.

But preliminary findings in a small-scale trial prompted South Africa to limit its use while it ascertains its efficacy against the variant that emerged there.

A six-month turnaround for an updated vaccine would represent a vast improvement over traditional vaccine development timelines.

A number of Covid vaccines have shown lower efficacy in trials where the South Africa variant predominates: earlier this week preliminary trials revealed the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab provided little protection against mild to moderate infection, although it is still expected to protect against severe disease and death.

The Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine is particularly important for poorer countries, because the company – unlike some of its rivals such as Pfizer – has pledged to sell it at cost price. The vaccine also does not require very low temperatures during transport, making it cheaper to deliver.

However the jab has been at the centre of a row over supplies, with the EU facing a shortfall of doses. Pascal Soriot, AstraZeneca’s chief executive, defended the company’s record of delivering vaccines to the EU.

Main Photo: The AstraZeneca vaccines are stored and prepared for vaccination at the Region Hovedstaden’s Vaccine Center in Bella Center in Copenhagen, Denmark. EPA-EFE/Liselotte Sabroe

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