AstraZeneca, Pfizer-BioNTech shots effective against Covid-19 variant first detected in India

Britain has rushed out Europe's fastest vaccination programme so far. PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON (BLOOMBERG, REUTERS) - Coronavirus vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and AstraZeneca have been shown to work against a variant first identified in India, according to a study by Public Health England (PHE).

Two doses of the Covid-19 vaccines were highly effective against the B16172 strain first detected in India, the agency said in a statement. There was minimal difference with how the inoculations work on a B117 variant detected in Kent, it added.

"We expect the vaccines to be even more effective at preventing hospitalisation and death," said Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisation at PHE. "So it is vital to get both doses to gain maximum protection against all existing and emerging variants."

The results are likely to boost the British government's plan to end its lockdown on June 21 even as cases of the variant have been rising rapidly.

The study, conducted from April 5 to May 16, found that the Pfizer-BioNTech shot was 88 per cent effective against the B16172 variant two weeks after the second dose. Two doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine were 60 per cent effective.

The difference may be explained by the fact that the roll-out of second doses of AstraZeneca came later than for the Pfizer-BioNTech shot, PHE said.

There is also data showing that the AstraZeneca inoculation takes longer to reach maximum effectiveness, according to the agency.

When compared to the effectiveness against the B117 variant which is Britain's dominant Covid-19 variant, Pfizer-BioNTech's vaccine is 93 per cent effective while AstraZeneca's drug is 66 per cent effective.

"I'm increasingly confident that we're on track for the road map, because this data shows that the vaccine, after two doses, works just as effectively (against the variant first detected in India)," Health Secretary Matt Hancock told broadcasters.

Britain has rushed out Europe's fastest vaccination programme so far but it has faced a new challenge from the spread of the variant first found in India.

Data published on Saturday showed that new Covid-19 cases reported in Britain rose by 10.5 per cent in the seven days to May 22 although the number remained a fraction of levels seen earlier this year.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson this month ordered an acceleration of remaining second doses to people aged over 50 and those who are clinically vulnerable.

PHE said a first dose of both vaccines was 33 per cent effective against symptomatic disease from B16172 after three weeks, lower than the 50 per cent against B117.

Mr Hancock said the data showed that getting both doses was absolutely vital.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.