AstraZeneca is working on a new version of its COVID-19 vaccine for immunity against the South African coronavirus variant. The new version of its COVID-19 vaccine is likely to be available by autumn, lead researcher of the vaccine development programme in the University of Oxford said on Sunday.
Sarah Gilbert, professor of vaccinology at Oxford told BBC that the researchers have already started working on the first part of the manufacturing process. "It looks very much like the new vaccine will be available for the autumn. We're already working on the first part of the manufacturing process in Oxford, that will be passed on to other members of the manufacturing supply chain as we go through the Spring, and it looks very much like that we can have a new version ready to use in the autumn," said Gilbert.
Gilbert said the researchers expect to show that the new version of the vaccine will generate antibodies that recognise the new variant. She said that from hereon, it will be very much like working on flu vaccines. People will be familiar that new components will be required in the vaccine every year to keep up with the new strains that keep emerging and circulating.
The current version has shown reduced efficacy in fighting the South African variant called B.1.351.
Meanwhile, South Africa has suspended inoculation with the AstraZeneca vaccine after a study showed that the drug failed to prevent moderate and mild cases of the South African variant. "It's a temporary issue that we have to hold on AstraZeneca until we figure out these issues," Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said. The University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, which conducted the trial, said in a statement on Sunday that the AstraZeneca vaccine "provides minimal protection against mild-moderate Covid-19 infection" from the South African variant.
Meanwhile, biotech company Moderna said that its COVID-19 vaccine is effective against the new variants identified in the UK and South Africa. Moderna said that its two-dose regimen at 100 mg dose is effective against strains detected so far.