Against variants, Oxford should update vaccine in days, says head of research

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Changing the formula of one of the most used vaccines in Brazil and adapting it to new variants would take ‘days’. This statement was made by the head of vaccine development research at the University of Oxford with the AstraZeneca laboratory, Andrew Pollard. On a visit to Brazil to set up an Oxford study center, the Briton granted an exclusive interview to CNN and stated that adaptation in the immunizing agent is the fastest part of the process.

“It is possible to develop a vaccine in days, but it needs to be produced, which takes a few months, and it needs to be tested. The answer we don’t get from regulators is how many tests are needed, and if a lot of tests are needed, it will take longer,” he said.

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The university’s research group in the United Kingdom is committed to testing the efficacy of the vaccine formula against the Ômicron variant. The work is done in the laboratory by putting the virus of this strain in contact with the serum of people vaccinated with the Oxford/AstraZeneca formula. Pollard revealed that the results are expected to come out in about 14 days, in the week of Christmas. But he said it is impossible to pinpoint the date as laboratory studies are unpredictable.

“At this stage, we don’t have enough information. In the coming weeks, we’ll start to learn if these Spike protein mutations actually weaken the immunity generated by vaccines. There is likely an ability for the virus to spread more easily even in vaccinated populations. But so far, we don’t see evidence of more serious cases,” he said.

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Spike protein is a kind of virus coating layer that is used to connect with antibodies, which destroy the virus and reduce the infection. The difference between Ômicron and other variants is precisely the fact that mutations are concentrated in this location. But there is still another point that attracts the researchers’ attention, the high contagion capacity of the mutation identified for the first time in South Africa.

“I think spread is what worries, particularly among the unvaccinated, because they are more susceptible to being infected and spreading the virus, and if they’re not vaccinated, they won’t be protected from the most serious cases. All developers are working on vaccines that specifically protect against the new Ômicron variant so we’re ready if we need to,” argues Pollard.

The researcher also explains that the origin of the variants is not necessarily the places where the percentage of vaccinees is low. It is necessary to understand the behavior even in countries with successful vaccination campaigns, according to them. South Africa, where Ômicron was discovered, had difficulty accessing vaccines and conducting the vaccination campaign. Only 25% of the population is immunized.

“The variants can come from anywhere, the first, Alpha, came from the UK, Brazil has its own variant, Gamma. We don’t have to look at where we ‘forget’ in terms of variants, the most dangerous variants can also come from countries with a high level of vaccination, as the virus can learn about immunity from vaccines and still spread among these populations. The issue in Africa is that we have forgotten that the unvaccinated there are still at risk, and we need to do more in that country and protect people’s health,” he says.

Reference: CNN Brasil

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