Mutant Covid-19 Strain May Force Serum Institute To Alter Vaccine Composition

WHO expressed concerns over the vaccine's effectiveness against S. African strain.

After the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization (SAGE) expressed concerns about the effectiveness of the vaccine against the South African mutant coronavirus strain, the Serum Institute of India may have to make adjustments to the composition of the vaccine developed by the University of Oxford and British pharma major AstraZeneca.

According to a report by Mint, SAGE checked the data on the efficacy of the vaccine on new variants of SARS CoV-2 on Monday and Tuesday before making substantial recommendations.

Earlier, South Africa has decided to stop the rollout of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine after preliminary clinical trial findings published by the Wits Vaccines and Infectious Diseases Analytics Research Unit suggested that it provided limited defence against the mild-moderate Covid-19 infection from the B.1.351 variant of the coronavirus first identified in the country in November. Around 2,000 volunteers were involved in the study.

For the Adar Poonawalla-led Serum Institute of India (SII), the development assumes significance, as COVAX has signed advance purchase agreements with AstraZeneca and SII and announced plans to distribute approximately 350 million doses in the first half of the year.

Manufacturers must be prepared to adjust to the SARS-CoV-2 viral evolution: WHO

Although the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, branded in India as Covishield, was rolled out in the country, it is yet to receive a green signal for global use by COVAX.

“We expect a decision this month from WHO on whether the vaccines will be granted emergency use listing as well as SAGE recommendation on its optimal use,” COVAX said.

With the virus evolving, COVAX further cautioned that “manufacturers must be prepared to adapt to the viral evolution of SARS-CoV-2, including the potential supply of future booster shots and adapted vaccines, if scientifically necessary. Trials must be planned and maintained in order to allow for the assessment of any changes in efficacy and to be of sufficient scale and diversity to allow for a consistent analysis of findings,” said the WHO.

India only has one coronavirus mutant strain, the UK version, circulating. The government has cited reports to suggest that Covaxin from Bharat Biotech works against the mutant strain. However, it has reported that testing for mutations in the virus will be increased after South Africa has brought the vaccine efficacy problem to its attention.

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