Booster jabs to battle coronavirus strains will be ready by September

Booster jabs to battle new coronavirus strains will be ready by September but the current vaccines will provide some protection, Oxford expert says

  • Professor Andrew Pollard predicted jabs could be ready as early as September
  • The new vaccines would be able to tackle new variants of the coronavirus
  • He said the pandemic would not be as ‘hot’ compared with past few months
  • In an interview he said vaccines were ‘the way out’ of never-ending lockdowns 

Britain is winning its war against Covid and the success of the vaccination campaign would have been ‘unthinkable’ a year ago, the Oxford vaccine chief said yesterday.

Professor Andrew Pollard predicted jabs to tackle new variants of the virus could be ready as early as September.

But even the existing vaccines would provide some protection against these strains, he said, emphasising that the pandemic simply would not be as ‘hot’ compared with the past few months.

In an interview marking the one-year anniversary of the first person in Europe being given a Covid jab as part of the Oxford trial, he said vaccines were ‘the way out’ of never-ending lockdowns.

Professor Pollard, director of the Oxford Vaccine Group and chief investigator of the Oxford vaccine trial, also paid tribute to the public for the massive take-up of the jabs.

Professor Andrew Pollard predicted jabs to tackle new variants of the virus could be ready as early as September (file image)

‘In the UK we’re in a very good place,’ he said. ‘Over 90 per cent of all those offered have taken up the vaccine. That’s astonishing. No one would have predicted that.’

He added: ‘The last Public Health England data shows more than 10,000 deaths have been prevented and that’s just 30million doses which have been administered in the UK.

‘When you magnify that up to this global rollout of vaccines, the numbers of lives saved is astonishing.’

A year ago it was ‘unthinkable that we would be here’.

Professor Pollard, who is married with three children, said: ‘In March and April, the narrative was that it would probably take two years to get the first vaccines. 

‘We were reasonably optimistic but to be honest I think most people didn’t think it was possible.’ 

He noted that while the UK was doing well, there were ‘problems’ in many parts of the world partly because of ‘communication’ around the safety of the jab.

The Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine has been linked to rare blood clots and last month, several European countries including Germany, France, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands halted their rollouts amid concerns over the risks.

But Professor Pollard, who has received both doses, urged the public to ‘balance the risks and the benefits’, adding that clots were a ‘very rare event’.

Professor Andrew J Pollard, Professor of Paediatric Infection and Immunity at the University of Oxford, Honorary Consultant Paediatrician at Oxford Children’s Hospital and Vice Master of St Cross College, Oxford

‘The biggest risk to humanity is people not being vaccinated – the biggest risk is from the virus,’ he said.

The professor of paediatric infection and immunity at Oxford University said the ‘key question’ now was whether the vaccines would work against variants such as the South African and Indian mutations.

‘I don’t imagine the vaccines will be 100 per cent effective but they may have a huge reduction in the risk of serious disease even with variants,’ he added.

‘We still have to plan for a worst-case scenario, which is when a new variant arrives and it’s not controlled and we have to re-vaccinate.

‘I think the reality will be some middle ground where the pandemic is not going to be as hot as it is at the moment. 

‘There remains uncertainty but it feels much more positive. There’s a lot of immunity being built up in the population and the virus can’t change its spots completely. Even with variants, there will be some immunity.’

Professor Pollard predicted ‘updated’ vaccines to protect against the South African and potentially other new variants would be available by September or October.

He said: ‘They can certainly be available for the last quarter of this year. We are talking to the other developers and everyone is working towards that timeline to have updated vaccines available.

‘The main thing is to change the sequence of the spike protein so it matches some of the new variants.’

The identity of the first person to receive the jab as part of the Oxford trial a year ago yesterday has not been disclosed.

Nearly 250million doses of all Covid vaccines have so far been administered around the world, including in developing countries such as Afghanistan, Botswana, Ethiopia, Malawi, Rwanda and Yemen.

Professor Pollard said: ‘I’m optimistic in saying that the vaccines that have been studied well have at least six months of protection.

‘Beyond a year, we don’t really have any data. We’ve got very good data up to six months and it’s unlikely to fall off a cliff after that. I’m optimistic that because the immune responses are so strong that it will last well beyond the six-month period.’

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