LONDON (AP) – The head of drugmaker AstraZeneca, which is developing a coronavirus vaccine that is expected to be approved by the British authorities this week, said on Sunday that researchers believe the shot will be effective against a new variant of the virus causing a rapid increase in infections in Britain.
AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot also told the Sunday Times that researchers developing the vaccine have devised a ‘winning formula’ that makes the jab as effective as competing candidates.
Some have expressed concern that the AstraZeneca vaccine, which is being developed in conjunction with the University of Oxford, may not be as good as the ones Pfizer has already distributed in the UK and other countries. Partial results indicate that the AstraZeneca shot is approximately 70% effective in preventing coronavirus infection, compared to the 95% efficacy reported by Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech.
“We think we have established the winning formula and how to get effectiveness that is after both others there,” Soriot said. “I can ‘t tell you anymore because we’ll be publishing sometime.”
The British government says its medicine regulator is reviewing the final data of AstraZeneca’s phase three clinical trials. The Times and others have reported that the green light could come by Thursday, and that the vaccines could start rolling out to the British public in the first week of January.
Asked about the effectiveness of the vaccine against the new variant of the coronavirus that is spreading in the UK, Soriot said: “So far we think the vaccine should remain effective. But we can not be sure, so we’re going to test it. ”
British authorities blamed the new virus variant for the rising infection rates across the country. They said the variant is much more transmissible, but stressed that there is no evidence that it makes people sicker.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson issued an urgent alarm days before Christmas, saying that the new version of the virus was spreading rapidly and that plans to travel and collect for millions should be canceled to limit the spread of the virus.
Authorities have since placed increasing areas of the country – affecting about 24 million people, or 43% of the population – in the strictest level of restrictions. Non-essential shops were closed, restaurants and bars could only be served and no indoor visits were allowed.
Many countries have quickly banned travel from the UK, but cases of the new variant have since also been reported in a dozen places around the world.
Public health officials said on December 24 that more than 600,000 people had received the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine.
Britain on Sunday recorded another 30,501 positive COVID-19 cases and 316 deaths, bringing the country’s total death toll to 70,752. Many hospitals are under pressure, including the largest hospital in Wales, which on Saturday made an urgent appeal to healthcare staff or medical students to help care for coronavirus patients in intensive care.
The health council, which runs the University Hospital of Wales, said on Sunday that the situation had improved, but its critical care unit remained very busy.
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