Testing a new jab on fresh strain, says AstraZeneca

omicron, omicron updates, astrazeneca, vaxzevria, covid, coronavirus

British-Swedish drugmaker

AstraZeneca

said it is studying the effectiveness of its Vaxzevria Covid-19 vaccine against the Omicron variant of the coronavirus. The company, along with Oxford University, has developed a vaccine platform to enable it to respond quickly to new variants that may emerge, Anil Kukreja, vice-president, medical affairs & regulatory, at AstraZeneca India, told ET on Monday.

The findings will have a bearing on India. Almost nine out of 10 people vaccinated in India against Covid have taken Covishield, an identical version of Vaxzevria that is made in India by Serum Institute of India. India has so far administered around 1.3 billion doses of Covid vaccines.

“As with any new emerging variants, we are looking into B.1.1.529 (Omicron) to understand more about it and the impact on the vaccine,” Kukreja said.

The company is already conducting research in locations such as Botswana and Eswatini where the variant has been identified, to enable the drugmaker to collect real world data of Vaxzevria against this new virus variant, he said.

“Vaxzevria has been shown to be effective against all SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern and Covid-19 in both clinical trials in up to 60,000 participants and from real world evidence in hundreds of thousands of people that have been vaccinated in over 170 countries,” Kukreja said.

Early studies on Omicron in South Africa suggest that the variant may be more transmissible and have a higher risk of reinfection compared with the Delta and Beta variants of the virus. Its mutations indicate that it may evade the protection of vaccines, but is unlikely to cause severe disease. Omicron was designated as a variant of concern by the World Health Organization last month. India has reported 21 cases of the Omicron variant as of Monday evening.

Kukreja said AstraZeneca is also testing its long-acting antibody combination, AZD7442, against Omicron and is hopeful it will retain efficacy since it comprises two potent antibodies with different and complementary activities against the virus. AstraZeneca said it has evidence from clinical trials that support use of Vaxzevria as a third dose booster.

“The COV-BOOST trial adds to the growing body of evidence to support Vaxzevria as a third dose booster for heterologous and homologous use,” Kukreja said.

“The antibody levels seen in the COV-BOOST immunogenicity trial for Vaxzevria are higher than those seen in the clinical efficacy phase-3 trials that were the basis for Vaxzevria’s regulatory approvals around the world,” he added.

The study also found that the two-dose schedule for Vaxzevria has maintained highly effective real-world protection against hospitalisation and death after six months.

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