AstraZeneca breakthrough as Oxford Uni say 'no evidence' Omicron can escape vaccine

The University of Oxford said that while there is currently “no evidence,” it is also ready to quickly develop an updated version of its current vaccine developed with AstraZeneca if it needs to. Experts said that there was currently limited data on the Omicron variant, but early signs suggest there is no need to panic. The leading university confirmed would undertake an analysis of the impact of the variant on its vaccine shot after AstraZeneca made a similar statement last week.

It said in a statement: “Despite the appearance of new variants over the past year, vaccines have continued to provide very high levels of protection against severe disease and there is no evidence so far that Omicron is any different.

“However, we have the necessary tools and processes in place for rapid development of an updated COVID-19 vaccine if it should be necessary.”

Scientists in South Africa, where the Omicron variant is thought to have originated, have reportedly already begun crucial work to assess how well Covid vaccines hold up against the new variant.Link

Omicron carries dozens of mutations that are thought to change how the virus will behave, including its ability to cause infection and how easily it can infect someone who has previously tested positive for COVID-19.

AstraZeneca breakthrough as Oxford Uni say 'no evidence' Omicron can escape vaccine
© GETTY AstraZeneca’s vaccine should work against the variant

It comes after the head of Moderna earlier on Tuesday said that COVID-19 shots were unlikely to be as effective against the variant.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson alos suggested there are early signs that vaccines may not be effective in preventing transmission.

Mr Johnson said on Saturday: “It does appear that Omicron spreads very rapidly and can be spread between people who are double-vaccinated.”

And while there is not yet enough data to give convincing evidence, some scientists have agreed that in theory, Omicron may be more able to dodge the protection offered by vaccines than other variants.

Wendy Barclay, a respiratory virus expert from Imperial College London explained that this is because vaccines that the Covid vaccines that have been rolled out i induce a number of antibodies to attack sites on a part of the virus known as the spike protein.

While other variants, like the Delta variant, also have mutations to what are called antigenic sites of the protein, other sites on the spike protein have not changed, which means that vaccines have stayed effective in these previously seen variants.

Dr Barclay said: “What’s a little bit different about this variant is that it has so many changes across spike that nearly all of the antigenic sites that we know about are changed on this virus.”

She said that this suggests that antibodies induced by vaccines “will be compromised in their ability to neutralize the virus”.

But Dr Barclay said that more research is needed to back up this theory.

But Professor Sir Andrew Pollard, a scientist behind the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab has reassured Britons that it is “extremely unlikely” that the Omicron variant will cause a “reboot” of the pandemic in the UK.

He said experts need to wait “several weeks” for confirmation, but that he thought jabs could still be effective at preventing serious illness.

Prof Sir Andrew, who chairs the Government’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, also said that most of the mutations in Omicron are in similar regions seen in other variants.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme: “That tells you that despite those mutations existing in other variants the vaccines have continued to prevent serious disease as we’ve moved through Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Delta.

“At least from a speculative point of view we have some optimism that the vaccine should still work against a new variant for the serious disease but really we need to wait several weeks to have that confirmed.

“It’s extremely unlikely that a reboot of a pandemic in a vaccinated population like we saw last year is going to happen.”

This is a breaking story. More to follow.

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