A British health official Monday downplayed a study suggesting the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine was minimally effective against a variant of the virus and suggested the vaccine could be modified to address such strains.
South Africa halted its rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine after researchers from the University of Witwatersrand and the University of Oxford said the vaccine provided minimal protection against mild or moderate infection from the so-called South African variant among young people.
But in an interview Monday, Britain’s Minister of State for Health Edward Argar and other health experts looking at the study suggested there was no evidence that the vaccine would not be effective in preventing hospitalization and severe illness and death from the South African strain.
Argar also suggested the vaccine could be modified the way flu vaccines are each year to address a variety of strains. He said the German pharmaceutical company CurVac – with which the British government has a contract - is already working on this.
Argar said just 147 people are known to have been infected with the South African variant in Britain.
The country has the world's fifth worst COVID-19 death toll with more than 110,000. So far, a little more than 12 million Britons have received first doses of COVID-19 vaccines.