AstraZeneca says its vaccine should be effective against COVID-19 variant
Approval likely in U.K. in days, but CEO says testing needed on how it fights new strain
The head of drugmaker AstraZeneca, which is developing a coronavirus vaccine widely expected to be approved by U.K. authorities this week, said Sunday that researchers believe the shot will be effective against a new variant of the virus driving a rapid surge in infections in Britain.
AstraZeneca chief executive Pascal Soriot also told the Sunday Times that researchers developing its vaccine have figured out a "winning formula" that will make the jab as effective as rival candidates.
Some have raised concerns that the AstraZeneca vaccine, which is being developed with Oxford University, may not be as good as the one made by Pfizer, which is already being distributed in Britain and other countries. Partial results suggest that the AstraZeneca shot is about 70 per cent effective for preventing illness from the coronavirus, compared with the 95 per cent efficacy reported by Pfizer and its German partner, BioNTech.
"We think we have figured out the winning formula and how to get efficacy that, after two doses, is up there with everybody else," Soriot said. "I can't tell you more because we will publish at some point."
Britain's government says its medicines regulator is reviewing the final data from AstraZeneca's Phase 3 clinical trials. The Times and others have reported that the green light could come by Thursday, and the vaccines can start to be rolled out for the U.K. public in the first week of January.
Asked about the vaccine's efficacy against the new variant of coronavirus spreading in the U.K., Soriot said: "So far, we think the vaccine should remain effective. But we can't be sure, so we're going to test that."
British authorities have blamed the new virus variant for soaring infection rates across the country. They said the variant is much more transmittable but stress there is no evidence it makes people more ill.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson sounded an urgent alarm about the variant days before Christmas, saying the new version of the virus was spreading rapidly and that plans to travel and gather must be cancelled for millions.
Authorities have since put increasing areas of the country — affecting about 24 million people, or 43 per cent of the population — in the strictest level of restrictions.
Many countries swiftly barred travel from the U.K., but cases of the new variant have since also been reported in a dozen locations around the world.
Public health officials said on Dec. 24 that more than 600,000 people had received the first of two doses of the Pfizer vaccine.