Modified AstraZeneca vaccine aimed at South Africa strain expected by fall, researcher says

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Developers of AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine expect to have a modified version that will be effective against the South Africa strain by fall, a top researcher said on Saturday.

Sarah Gilbert, Oxford University’s lead vaccine developer, told the BBC that the AstraZeneca vaccine made in partnership with the school currently provides “minimal protection” against the South African strain. However, she added that the vaccine would still protect against severe cases of the virus.

Gilbert also said that creating a new version of the vaccine that would be effective against the South African strain would require less time and less clinical testing than the original.

“This year we expect to show that the new version of the vaccine will generate antibodies and recognize the new variant. And then it will be very much like working on flu vaccines, so people will be familiar with the idea that we have to have new components, new strains in the flu vaccine every year,” Gilbert said.

A study published last week showed that the AstraZeneca vaccine is around 75 percent effective against the U.K. variant of the virus.

Cases of the South Africa strain have already been found in the U.S. and health experts have warned that the new strains such as the U.K. variant will likely become the dominant form of the virus in the U.S.

Data collected on the vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna have shown that they are effective against the U.K. variant but not as effective against the South Africa variant. Moderna officials have raised the idea of a potential booster shot of their two-shot vaccine in order enhance immunity against new variants.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the leading infectious disease expert in the U.S., has said that vaccinating enough people as quickly as possible will help in fighting the new variants.

“Mutations occur because the virus has a playing field, as it were, to mutate. If you stop that and stop the replication, viruses cannot mutate,” Fauci said during a White House coronavirus briefing. “And that’s the reason to continue to do what we’re doing, namely intensify our ability and our implementation to vaccinate as many people as possible as quickly as possible.”

Tags Anthony Fauci AstraZeneca vaccine COVID-19 vaccine Sarah Gilbert South Africa variant

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