Researchers who worked on the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine are already working on a so-called “second generation” Covid jab, designed to be effective against mutated strains of the virus.
While the existing vaccine is thought to be effective against the ‘Kent’ strain which emerged in the South East of England, there are concerns about other strains which are starting to appear all over the world.
New Covid variants have been identified in South Africa and Brazil recently, prompting worries that existing vaccines may not be entirely effective against these.
The manufacturers of the Novavax vaccine tested the jab against the South African strain and found the efficacy of the vaccine dropped from 85 per cent to 60 per cent.
Scientists from the Oxford/AstraZeneca team who are now working on a new vaccine hope that it will be finished and approved by the regulatory authorities by autumn.
The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) is responsible for approving the vaccine. While it isn’t clear how long the approval process could take, a spokesperson for MHRA told The Times that “it is unlikely that a new approval process will be needed”.
When is the new vaccine likely to be ready?
Head of research and development at AstraZeneca, Sir Mene Pangalos, said: “We’re working very hard and we’re already talking about not just the variants but also the clinical studies that we need to run, and we’re very much aiming to try and have something ready by the autumn.”
Head of the vaccine team at Oxford, Andrew Pollard, said: “Designing a new vaccine is very, very quick. Then there’s manufacturing to do and then a small-scale study - all of that can be completed in a very short period of time. Autumn is really the timing for having new vaccines available for use rather than for having the clinical trials run.”
However, Pollard also pointed out that there will likely be a need to keep developing updated vaccines to keep up with new variants.
He added: “I suspect, given that we’ve seen a number [of variants] emerge over the last couple of months, that this is going to be an ongoing challenge.”