Don’t let Covid variants distract from facts — vaccines save lives

Dr Mary Ramsay

IF we want the harmful effects of Covid consigned to the past, we need to keep calm and carry on vaccinating.

Over the past few weeks, every single day hundreds of thousands of you have rolled up your sleeves and had the Covid vaccine. It’s because of this effort we have set an exceptional pace for vaccinations.

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But for understandable reasons, talk in recent days of mutations and new variants — each identified in a different location — has caused alarm.

And a great deal of attention is being given to early data on how the vaccines are responding to these variants.

But we shouldn’t let this new information distract us from the hard facts about the Covid-19 vaccines and just how effective they are against this disease.

In short, there is nothing in this new data that should dissuade you from getting the Oxford vaccine or any other.

The first and most important reason is that every approved vaccine is highly likely to give strong protection against the risk of severe disease and death.

This is likely to be true regard­less of the variant.

These are the outcomes that matter most and are what will prevent people from ending up in hospital. This should be at the front of our minds.

The second key point is that the South African variant is not the dominant one in the UK.

We currently have just 147 cases of this variant, each of which has been rapidly identified, track­ed to a postcode and tackled head-on by our surge testing programme.

Britain’s 350million Covid vaccine doses

THE government has ordered 350million doses of Covid-19 vaccine, with vaccination starting in early December.

This includes 40million doses of the promising Pfizer shot, which was revealed to be 90 per cent effect last week.

These are the other vaccines which the government has pre-ordered:

Oxford/AstraZeneca: 100million doses
A weakened virus that causes colds in chimpanzees, it has been shown to generate a strong immune response against Covid-19.

It has been genetically changed so that it is impossible for it to grow in humans, making it safe for children, the elderly and people with pre-existing conditions.

Currently in phase-3 trials in the UK, USA, South Africa, Japan, Brazil and Kenya, more than 50,000 test patients have been given the vaccine. Early reviews have shown it to be safe.

A company in Australia has already started making millions of vials in the expectation that trials will be successful.

Novavax: 60million doses

Contains purified piece of the virus that causes Covid-19. When it is administered, the body recognises it as “foreign” and mounts a protective immune response.

It has been shown to generate more antibodies than in patients recovering from severe Covid-19 infections.

Currently in phase-3 clinical trials in the UK and USA.

GSK/Sanofi: 60million doses

Uses the same protein as one of Sanofi’s seasonal flu vaccines coupled with a booster.

In phase-1 clinical trials but early results have been positive.

Valneva: 60million doses
An inactivated whole virus vaccine designed to prompt the body into creating high levels of Covid-19 antibodies.

The government has invested in Valneva’s manufacturing facility in Livingston, Scotland, to create a major UK vaccine factory.

Currently in pre-trial research, with trials due to start in December.

Pfizer/BioNTech: 40million doses

Prevents Covid-19 infection by targeting the virus’s “spike protein”, effectively disabling it before it can cause any damage.

Tested on 40,000 patients, it is currently in phase-3 trials, but the first interim analysis has shown it is 90 per cent effective.

Janssen: 30million doses

Uses a modified common cold virus to act like a Trojan horse that can deploy the Covid-19 virus’s “spike protein” to human cells, causing the body to generate antibodies.

Phase-3 trials among 60,000 patients were recently halted temporarily after an unexplained illness in one volunteer. Trials have since resumed.

= 350million doses in total

We are taking every possible step to drive down that variant in the UK and make sure it does not get a chance to become established here.

The third thing to remember is our vital weapon in the fight against variants: Genomics.

This is a scientific tool we use to track the changes and mutations in an infectious disease.

UK scientists are world leaders in the field.

By tracking how the virus evolves, we are using genomics to detect and respond to its every move.

We know that the smallest mutation could have big consequences for how the virus can spread.

But we still expect the vaccines to work against serious disease.

And as new variants emerge, scientists can develop newer generations of vaccines, similar to the work done every year on the flu.

None of this is cause for complacency.

We must stay alert to the emerging ­evidence.

There are still 30,000 people in UK hospitals battling the virus and the NHS is facing acute pressure.

But be in no doubt, vaccines are the way out of this pandemic.

By getting the vaccine, we will all be doing our bit.

Professor Danny Altmann

THE UK vaccine rollout is going stupendously well and we should be very proud of that.

Life could look so much more normal by the end of spring or early summer if we maintain the current level of vaccinations.

For every extra million people we ­vaccinate, that is less transmission, less pressure on ­hospitals and fewer deaths.

Should we panic about the South African ­variant? We need to study it further.

Answers are coming out of South Africa that the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine can still block severe hospitalisation or lethal infection, but it is having less effect on reducing numbers of mild infection.

All the vaccines we have at the moment, including the AstraZeneca one, induce a pretty good T-cell response against the South African variant.

This is a key part of the body’s defence against the virus.

The jury is still out on how much the South African variant knocks out the neutralising antibodies of each vaccine, which help defend against infection.

We know all the vaccines are effective in preventing hospitalisations among all ­variants. So I was surprised to see South Africa’s Health Minister Zweli

Mkhize saying they were suspending use of the AstraZeneca jab. Remember, mutations happen all the time among viruses and scientists can tweak their vaccines to make them more effective.

Also, the Kent variant is the dominant one here and all the vaccines work plenty good enough against it.

Lots of labs, including ours, have looked at whether it will subvert vaccine immunity in any way. Many are saying it does a little bit but not substantially.

We need 80 per cent of the population immune before we stop passaging it between people’s lungs. Once that percentage are vaccinated, it reduces the risk of ­everything.

I could be infected and coughing and spluttering over people but the chances of a virus particle coming out of my nose and reaching the unprotected person’s lungs are sufficiently low that I won’t start a new wave of infections.

A virus that can’t transmit can’t sit in people’s lungs and can’t mutate, so there won’t be any more mutations.

Grab any vaccine you are offered. It is your escape route back to normality.


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