AstraZeneca plans booster jab for new variants, as mutation fears grow
Nicole Johnston
Europe;United Kingdon


News that AstraZeneca hopes to roll out a new COVID-19 booster jab, adapted to tackle virus variants as they emerge, comes as public health experts warn about the mutations spreading globally.

AstraZeneca says it hopes the booster will be available within six to nine months.

Its announcement comes after a leading UK public health expert warned the COVID-19 variant first discovered in the county of Kent, in southeast England, will "sweep the world."

The comments by Sharon Peacock, director of the COVID-19 Genomics UK Consortium, come as further mutations of the variant have been reported in the UK cities of Bristol, Manchester and Liverpool.

Peacock told the BBC: "What's really affected us at the moment is transmissibility because the new variant that has swept across the country is, in all probability, going to sweep around the world."



Countries are becoming increasingly concerned about the ability of the virus to mutate and potentially render vaccines less effective. The main concern is with those variants first identified in the UK, South Africa and Brazil.

According to Peacock, "it's going to be a kind of slow waltz with the virus and vaccine development, trying to keep ahead of what nature is throwing at us."

At present, countries such as the UK, which are pushing ahead with their vaccine programs, are not waltzing with the virus, but desperately trying to keep ahead of it by pushing infections rates down in the community.

The UK remains in its third national lockdown. The government is set to review this during the week beginning February 22, but few expect restrictions to be lifted quickly. The priority is to get schools reopened and not to end up with rising infections again in the summer that would necessitate yet another lockdown.

Peacock says the highly transmissible UK variant B 1.1.7 may have been circulating for months and could have an adverse effect on vaccination programs.

"What's concerning is that the 1.1.7. variant is beginning to mutate again and get new mutations, which could affect the way that we handle the virus in terms of immunity and effectiveness of vaccines," she said.

"This mutation has arisen in our kind of communal garden lineage at least five times," she explains. "It is going to keep popping up because there is a huge advantage to the virus to be able to find chinks in our armor."


Nurses and doctors tend to a patient in a COVID-19 Intensive Care Unit at the Curry Cabral hospital in Lisbon, on February 11, 2021. /Armando Franca/AP

Nurses and doctors tend to a patient in a COVID-19 Intensive Care Unit at the Curry Cabral hospital in Lisbon, on February 11, 2021. /Armando Franca/AP


AstraZeneca maintains that its vaccine is solid despite a small study finding it did not protect against mild to moderate disease in young people infected with the variant first discovered in South Africa. The study did not look at its efficacy in older people.

On Wednesday, the World Health Organization's chief scientific advisers recommended the vaccine be used on all adults over the age of 18.

AstraZeneca has announced it is making 100 million vaccine doses a month and from April this will double to 200 million.

The pharmaceutical giant has reported its revenue last year increased by 9 percent to more than $26 billion. However, its COVID-19 vaccine sales were only worth $2 million.

The company says it will not make a profit on coronavirus vaccines until the pandemic is over. But it is making money elsewhere with several new cancer drugs.

If the company can meet its target to develop and manufacture a new booster vaccine it will be welcome news for a pandemic weary world.


Video editor: Nuno Fernandes

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