LONDON – The chief of drugmaker AstraZeneca, which is developing a vaccine against the coronavirus that is expected to be widely approved by British authorities this week, said on Sunday that researchers believed the vaccine would be effective against a new variant of the virus causing an increase rapid infections in Britain.
AstraZeneca chief executive Pascal Soriot also told the Sunday Times that researchers developing its vaccine have found a “winning formula” that makes the vaccine as effective as rival candidates.
Some have expressed concern that the AstraZeneca vaccine, which is in development with the University of Oxford, may not be as good as the one made by Pfizer already distributed in the UK and other countries. Partial results suggest that the AstraZeneca vaccine is around 70% effective in preventing disease due to coronavirus infection, compared to the 95% effectiveness reported by Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech.
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“We think we’ve found the winning formula and how to achieve efficacy that after two doses is up there with everyone,” Soriot said. “I can’t tell you more as we will post at some point. ”
The UK government says its drug regulator is reviewing final data from AstraZeneca’s phase three clinical trials. The Times and others have reported that the green light could come on Thursday and vaccines could start rolling out to the British public in the first week of January.
Asked about the effectiveness of the vaccine against the new variant of the coronavirus which is spreading in the UK, Soriot said: “So far we believe the vaccine should remain effective. But we can’t be sure, so we’ll test that out.
British authorities have blamed the new variant of the virus for soaring infection rates across the country. They said the variant was much more transmissible, but point out that there is no evidence that it makes people sicker.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson sounded an urgent variant alarm days before Christmas, saying the new version of the virus was spreading quickly and travel and rally plans had to be canceled for millions in order to curb the spread virus.
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Authorities have since placed growing regions of the country – affecting an estimated 24 million people, or 43% of the population – in the tightest level of restrictions. Non-essential shops have closed, restaurants and pubs can only operate for take out, and no socializing inside is allowed.
Many countries quickly banned travel from the UK, but cases of the new variant have since been reported in a dozen places around the world as well.
Public health officials said on December 24 that more than 600,000 people had received the first of two doses of the Pfizer vaccine.
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Britain recorded another 30,501 positive cases of COVID-19 and 316 more deaths on Sunday, bringing the country’s total death toll to 70,752. Many hospitals are under pressure, including Wales’ largest hospital, who on Saturday issued an urgent appeal to healthcare workers or medical students to help treat coronavirus patients in intensive care.
The board of health which runs University Hospital for Wales said on Sunday that the situation had improved but its intensive care unit remained extremely busy.