Oxford University scientists and pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca are working on a new vaccine that will be effective against the new mutant strains.
Oxford/AstraZeneca are confident that they will be releasing the new Covid vaccine by the autumn, as scientists have increasing amounts of evidence the current vaccine is less effective against the South African variant.
The E484K mutation could be less susceptible to vaccines according to studies, although it is expected they will still offer good protection.
Professor Andrew Pollard who is the director of the Oxford vaccine group, said at a briefing hosted by AstraZeneca said, “I think the actual work on designing a new vaccine is very, very quick because it’s essentially just switching out the genetic sequence for the spike protein, for the updated variants.
“And then there’s manufacturing to do and then a small scale study. So all of that can be completed in a very short period of time, and the autumn is really the timing for having new vaccines available for use rather than for having the clinical trials run.”
He said that clinical trials for new vaccines will involve “hundreds of people at the most.”
He said, “That’s a discussion which is ongoing with regulators about exactly what the data package is that they would need.
“The reason why it’s such a small number is because with an updated vaccine, the question is whether immune responses still look the same but against the new variants as they emerge.
“We don’t need to run studies on a large scale to prove efficacy. And so that’s why they’re much quicker and much smaller to conduct.”
Sir Mene Pangalos, executive vice president of biopharmaceuticals research and development at AstraZeneca added, “Our ambition is to be ready for the next round of immunisations that may be necessary as we go into next winter.
“That’s what we’re aiming for.”
He added, “We’re very much aiming to try and have something ready by the autumn. So, this year.”
Speaking to the BBC, the Health Secretary Matt Hancock said, “We know from earlier trials that the vaccines are safe and effective at protecting the individual.
“We now know that the Oxford vaccine also reduces transmission and that will help us all to get out of this pandemic, frankly, which is why it is such good news that we should welcome.”