Pfizer, AstraZeneca COVID jabs ‘highly effective’ against India variant, study shows

The COVID-19 vaccines developed by Pfizer/BioNTech and AstraZeneca/Oxford University are “highly effective” against the Indian variant, a new study has found.

Public Health England (PHE) said on Sunday that the Pfizer vaccine was 88 per cent effective against symptomatic disease from the Indian variant — named B.1.617.2 — two weeks after the second dose.

The AstraZeneca jab had an efficacy rate of 60 per cent.

Doctor Anil Mehta and Apprentice Nursing Associate Ellie Bull prepare syringes with doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine at the Welcome Centre in Ilford, on Feb. 5, 2021
Doctor Anil Mehta and Apprentice Nursing Associate Ellie Bull prepare syringes with doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine at the Welcome Centre in Ilford, on Feb. 5, 2021 – Copyright AP Photo/Frank Augstein

Both of these rates are on par with the protection the vaccines offer against the British variant, known as B.1.1.7, PHE said.

It said the difference in effectiveness between the two jabs “may be explained by the fact that the rollout of the second doses of AstraZeneca was later than for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, and other data on antibodies profiles show it takes longer to reach maximum effectiveness with the AstraZeneca vaccine.”

It expects that the effectiveness of the two vaccines against hospitalisation and death due to contracting the Indian variant should be higher. 

However, both vaccines were found to be slightly less effective against symptomatic disease from the Indian variant (33 per cent) than the British one (50 per cent) three weeks after just one dose.

The study involved 1,054 people confirmed through genomic sequencing to have contracted the B.1.617.2 variant between early April and mid-May.

The B.1.617 variant, which was first discovered in India in October, has since spread to more than 50 countries worldwide. It has been designated a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organisation over fears it could be more transmissible and resistant to treatment.

The UK is the European country which has reported the most cases, with more than 3,850 infections observed by May 19, a rise of 160 per cent on the previous week. 

Scientists advising the British government warned earlier this month that they believe the variant could be up to 50 per cent more transmissible and that “a very large increase in transmission” was to be expected, increasing pressure on the government to review its lockdown easing plan. 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has conceded that the Indian variant could pose “a serious disruption” to removing more restrictions. The government currently still plans to reopen the country’s economy completely on June 21.

The UK is Europe’s worst-impacted country with just under 128,000 lives claimed by the virus since the beginning of the pandemic. But more than 55 per cent of the population has now received at least one dose of the vaccines — the second-highest rate in the world after Israel. 

Secretary of Health Matt Hancock said the study shows the country “can now be confident that over 20 million people — more than 1 in 3 — have significant protection against this new variant.”

“It’s clear how important the second dose is to secure the strongest possible protection against COVID-19 and its variant — ad I urge everyone to book their jab when offered,” he added.

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