© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: COVID-19 Vaccines in Basingstoke
(Reuters) – British drugmaker AstraZeneca (NASDAQ 🙂 said on Saturday that its vaccine developed with the University of Oxford appeared to offer only limited protection against the mild illness caused by the South African variant of COVID-19, according to early data from a test. The study by South Africa’s University of the Witwatersrand and Oxford University showed that the vaccine had significantly reduced efficacy against the South African variant, according to a Financial Times report published earlier in the day. Among the variants of the coronavirus currently of most concern to scientists and public health experts are the so-called British, South African and Brazilian variants, which appear to be spreading more rapidly than others. “In this small phase I / II trial, early data have shown limited efficacy against mild disease primarily due to the South African variant B.1.351,” an AstraZeneca spokesperson said in response to the FT report. “However, we have not been able to adequately determine its effect against severe illness and hospitalization since the subjects were predominantly healthy young adults.” The company said it believed its vaccine could protect against serious diseases, given that the activity of the neutralizing antibodies was equivalent to that of other COVID-19 vaccines. While thousands of individual changes have emerged as the virus mutates into new variants, only a small minority are likely to be important or change the virus appreciably, according to the British Medical Journal. “The University of Oxford and AstraZeneca have begun to tailor the vaccine against this variant and will advance rapidly through clinical development to be ready for fall delivery if necessary,” said the AstraZeneca spokesperson. The trial that involved more than 2,000 people has not been peer-reviewed, the FT said. On Friday, Oxford said its vaccine has similar efficacy against the British coronavirus variant as previously circulating variants.