The Covid-19 vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University protected people from a new, more contagious variant of coronavirus on a similar level as protection against other lineages of the virus, Oxford researchers said in an article published on Friday.
The paper, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, said the vaccine had an effectiveness of 74.6 percent over the new variant, first detected in the UK and known as B.1.1.7. This was similar, if slightly less than, its effectiveness against other lines of the virus.
The encouraging, if preliminary, results suggest that all five leading vaccines may offer at least some protection against new variants of the virus that is found around the world. However, the increasing evidence suggests that mutant viruses can reduce the effectiveness of vaccines and increase pressure on countries to vaccinate their populations quickly and outperform the globally distributed variants.
In clinical trials, the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine protected all participants from serious illness or death.
The Oxford scientists behind the vaccine took weekly swabs from the nose and throat of participants who had taken part in their clinical trial in the UK. To determine the effectiveness of the vaccine against the new variant, they sequenced the virus particles from several hundred swabs between October 1 and January 14. At that time it was known that the new variant was available in Great Britain.
The vaccine had 84 percent effectiveness against other lines of the virus, compared with 74.6 percent against the new variant, although the small sample sizes produced a wide range of estimates.
Andrew Pollard, the lead investigator of the vaccine study at Oxford, said in a statement that data from the study, published Friday, “indicate that the vaccine protects not only against the original pandemic virus, but also against the novel variant B.1.1. 7 that caused the rise in disease across the UK from late 2020 “
The researchers also looked at blood samples from clinical trial participants who had been vaccinated and found that the variant may be better able to evade the antibodies produced by the vaccine.
The variant, first discovered in Great Britain, has since been reported in more than 70 other countries. Public Health England has estimated that the infection rate of the variant is 25 to 40 percent higher than that of other forms of the coronavirus.
Preliminary data from laboratory tests of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines suggest that they offer good protection against variant B.1.1.7. Novavax, which was sequencing test samples from its participants in clinical trials in the UK while the variant was widespread there, found that its vaccine against variant B.1.1.7 was highly effective.
Answers to your vaccine questions
Am I eligible for the Covid vaccine in my state?
Currently more than 150 million people – almost half of the population – can be vaccinated. But each state makes the final decision on who goes first. The country’s 21 million healthcare workers and three million long-term care residents were the first to qualify. In mid-January, federal officials asked all states to open eligibility to anyone over 65 and adults of any age with medical conditions that are at high risk of becoming seriously ill or dying of Covid-19. Adults in the general population are at the end of the line. If federal and state health authorities can remove bottlenecks in the distribution of vaccines, everyone over the age of 16 is eligible as early as spring or early summer. The vaccine has not been approved in children, although studies are ongoing. It can take months before a vaccine is available to anyone under the age of 16. For the latest information on vaccination guidelines in your area, see your state health website
Is the Vaccine Free?
You shouldn’t have to pay anything out of pocket to get the vaccine, despite being asked for insurance information. If you don’t have insurance, you should still get the vaccine for free. Congress passed law this spring banning insurers from applying cost-sharing such as a co-payment or deductible. It consisted of additional safeguards prohibiting pharmacies, doctors, and hospitals from charging patients, including uninsured patients. Even so, health experts fear that patients will end up in loopholes that make them prone to surprise bills. This may be the case for people who are charged a doctor’s visit fee with their vaccine, or for Americans who have certain types of health insurance that are not covered by the new regulations. When you get your vaccine from a doctor’s office or emergency clinic, talk to them about possible hidden costs. To make sure you don’t get a surprise invoice, it is best to get your vaccine from a Department of Health vaccination center or local pharmacy as soon as the shots become more widely available.
Can I choose which vaccine to get?How long does the vaccine last? Do I need another next year?
That is to be determined. It is possible that Covid-19 vaccinations will become an annual event just like the flu vaccination. Or the vaccine may last longer than a year. We’ll have to wait and see how durable the protection from the vaccines is. To determine this, researchers will track down vaccinated people to look for “breakthrough cases” – those people who get Covid-19 despite being vaccinated. This is a sign of a weakening of protection and gives researchers an indication of how long the vaccine will last. They will also monitor the levels of antibodies and T cells in the blood of people who have been vaccinated to see if and when a booster shot might be needed. It is conceivable that people might need boosters every few months, once a year, or just every few years. It’s just a matter of waiting for the data.
Does my employer need vaccinations?Where can I find out more?
The paper, released on Friday, did not address the protective power of the AstraZeneca vaccine against another fast-spreading variant of coronavirus known as B.1.351, which was first identified in South Africa. Researchers are running similar laboratory tests to measure the effect of this variant on the effectiveness of the vaccine.
AstraZeneca’s vaccine has been approved in nearly 50 countries around the world, but not in the United States, where the Food and Drug Administration is waiting for data from a clinical trial that included more than 30,000 participants, mostly Americans. The results of that study could be available this month, and AstraZeneca is expected to have enough safety data to seek emergency clearance from the FDA by the first week of March.
In the United States, variant B.1.1.7 has been identified in 33 states, but the full extent of its prevalence is unknown due to the lack of a national surveillance program. Federal health officials have warned that it could become the dominant form of the virus in the United States by March.