Oxford University, co-developer of the vaccine, said Friday that its vaccine has similar efficacy against the coronavirus variant, B.1.1.7 as it does to the previously circulating variants.
The variant, first identified in the U.K., has since spread to many other parts of the world. It has also made a mark on Canada, particularly in Ontario and Alberta.
The variant is considered more easily transmissible, prompting many countries to restrict travel to Britain. It also led to a spike in infections that forced a new national lockdown in England last month.
British and Canadian health authorities have said they believe the vaccines were effective against variants.
“Data from our trials of the ChAdOx1 vaccine in the United Kingdom indicate that the vaccine not only protects against the original pandemic virus, but also protects against the novel variant, B.1.1.7, which caused the surge in disease from the end of 2020 across the UK,” said Andrew Pollard, Chief Investigator on the Oxford vaccine trial.
Sarah Gilbert, co-developer of the vaccine, said that, although the vaccine had efficacy against the variant from the U.K., it might need to be adapted for a future variant.
“We are working with AstraZeneca to optimize the pipeline required for a strain change should one become necessary,” Gilbert said.
The findings, released in a preprint paper and not peer-reviewed, also detailed recent analysis showing that vaccination with the shot results in a reduction in the duration of shedding and viral load, which may translate into a reduced transmission of the disease, Oxford University said.
Efficacy in older adults
Britain has been rolling out the shot among all age groups after the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) was the first regulator to approve it in December, but some other European countries have said more data is needed before it is given to those over 65.
Canada is still reviewing the AstraZeneca vaccine, but federal officials have hinted that its decision could come “soon.” The approval would set in motion an agreement for up to 20 million vaccine doses to begin funneling into Canada.
However, if approved, Canada is not expecting to receive the shots until at least the second quarter of this year.
Munir Pirmohamed, Chair of the Commission on Human Medicines’ COVID-19 Vaccines Benefit Risk Expert Working Group, said British regulators had noticed the smaller number of under-65s in the data when they approved the vaccine.
“Nevertheless, there was no evidence there, suggesting that those people over 65 were not getting evidence of efficacy,” he said at an MHRA news briefing, asked by Reuters about efficacy of the shot in the elderly.
“Since then we’ve seen more data coming through from AstraZeneca as more people are completing the trial, which highlights again that efficacy in the elderly is seen, and there’s no evidence of lack of efficacy.”
He added elderly people were generating strong immune responses, and said that the most important thing was that both AstraZeneca’s vaccine and a shot developed by Pfizer and BioNTech were preventing serious disease and deaths.
When asked about the efficacy in older adults on Thursday, Canada’s Deputy Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Howard Njoo pointed to Health Canada, saying the agency will review the data as it becomes available.
“They’re receiving the data and information from the company in order to make a sort of their assessment and deliberations in terms of what would be important to from an approval perspective,” he said.
“I’ve seen some of the data reported in the media, but that’s not the same thing as having sort of the very detailed data that the Health Canada, our colleagues, would obviously be in receipt of and looking at very closely right now.”
President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen has said that the EU has decided not to compromise on safety as she defends the slower pace of approval of shots in the bloc.
Asked about the suggestion that Britain had compromised on safety and efficacy standards, MHRA Chief Executive June Raine defended the regulator’s standards.
“I think our position is very clear in terms of the rigorous science that MHRA pursues in the interests of public confidence, public safety, and the effectiveness of these important vaccines,” she said.
— with files from Global News