AstraZeneca boss says vaccine effective against variants

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Pascal Soriot, global head of AstraZeneca, is based in Sydney.Credit:Edwina Pickles

The AstraZeneca vaccine will offer strong protection against both the Brazilian and South African coronavirus variants, according to the company’s global chief who says mixing the first and second vaccine doses from different companies may provide a better approach.

AstraZeneca chief executive Pascal Soriot said new data weakened the result of a South African study which found the vaccine had only 10 per cent efficacy against the local variant. It “underrepresented” old people, for whom the vaccine is more effective.

Australia has been importing the vaccine from Europe and 90 healthcare workers in the South Australian town of Murray Bridge were the first to receive a dose last Friday.

“We have several vaccines that protect well against severe disease for all viruses,” Mr Soriot told the Herald and The Age.

“But out of an abundance of caution, we are developing a South African variant vaccine, and people might get a booster in the northern hemisphere autumn if necessary.”

New unpublished data showed the vaccine was also effective against the Brazilian variant, Mr Soriot said.

Last week a World Health Organisation representative said the South African study, which led to the country suspending its rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine, was a “very limited scale study” which showed evidence of mild and moderate disease.

“We still believe … the AstraZeneca vaccine is effective even in places where you have the large proportion of cases which could be attributed to the B.1.351 [South African] variant,” Dr Rabindra Abeyasinghe told CNN.

Mr Soriot said all vaccines, including from AstraZeneca and Pfizer, had lower efficacy in young people, because the vaccines were less effective at stopping a milder disease.

“And so what you see in these studies is 100 per cent protection against severe disease, but there was also no severe disease in the control arm, because they were all young,” he said.

“In the South African study, I think it’s more a reflection of the type of patients than on the vaccine itself.

“They all protect very well with a high level of protection against severe disease and hospitalisation. And as you go down the severity, the level of efficacy or protection drops, so you have less protection against moderate disease.”

Data from Scotland and England showed the vaccine was 100 per cent effective against death and led to a 94 per cent reduction in hospitalisation.

Read more at: The Sydney Morning Herald

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