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AstraZeneca says its vaccine should work against new coronavirus strain

A nurse administers a shot to a volunteer participating in AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine trial
A nurse gives vaccine-trial volunteer Gregory Bowman a dose of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 shot at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.
(E. Jason Wambsgans / Chicago Tribune)

The head of drugmaker AstraZeneca, whose COVID-19 vaccine candidate is expected to be authorized this week for use in Britain, says researchers believe the shot will be effective against the new coronavirus strain driving a rapid surge in infections in the U.K.

AstraZeneca Chief Executive Pascal Soriot also told the Sunday Times of London that its researchers have figured out a “winning formula” to make its vaccine as effective as rivals already in use elsewhere, such as vaccines by Pfizer and Moderna.

Some have raised concern that the AstraZeneca vaccine, which is being developed with Oxford University, may not be as good. Partial results released last month suggested that the AstraZeneca shot was about 70% effective in preventing COVID-19, compared with the 95% efficacy reported by Pfizer and its German partner, BioNTech.

“We think we have figured out the winning formula and how to get efficacy that, after two doses, is up there with everybody else,” Soriot said. “I can’t tell you more because we will publish at some point.”

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The British government says its medicines regulator is reviewing the final data from AstraZeneca’s Phase 3 clinical trials. The Times of London and others have reported that the green light for use in Britain could come by Thursday, and inoculations could begin the first week of January.

British hospitals are already administering the Pfizer vaccine.

BioNTech’s chief is confident the COVID-19 vaccine his company developed with Pfizer will work against the new coronavirus strain hitting Britain.

Asked about the AstraZeneca vaccine’s efficacy against the new variant of the coronavirus spreading in Britain, Soriot said: “So far, we think the vaccine should remain effective. But we can’t be sure, so we’re going to test that.”

British authorities have blamed the new strain for soaring infection rates across the country. They said the variant is much more contagious, but stress that there is no evidence it makes people more ill.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson sounded an urgent alarm about the variant days before Christmas, saying the new strain was spreading rapidly and that plans to travel and gather over the holiday must be canceled for millions of people.

Many countries swiftly barred travel from Britain, but cases of infection by the new variant have since been reported in a dozen locations around the world. The U.S. is requiring all air travelers from Britain to show proof of a negative coronavirus test taken within 72 hours before the flight.

British health officials said Dec. 24 that more than 600,000 people had received the first of two doses of the Pfizer vaccine.


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