Home >News >India >Serum Institute may alter covid shot to tackle mutant strain

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

On Monday and Tuesday, SAGE reviewed the evidence on the vaccine’s effectiveness on new SARS CoV-2 variants, before making significant recommendations. Earlier, South Africa decided to stop the roll out of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine after preliminary clinical trial findings published by the Wits Vaccines and Infectious Diseases Analytics Research Unit indicated that it offered minimal protection against the mild-moderate covid-19 infection from the B.1.351 variant of the coronavirus first identified in the country in November. The study involved around 2,000 volunteers.

COVAX, a global joint initiative of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), and WHO, aimed at providing equal access to covid-19 vaccines in more than 92 low- and middle-income countries, said it is vitally important to determine the vaccine’s effectiveness when it comes to preventing more severe illnesses caused by the B.1.351 variant.

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

Though the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, branded as Covishield in India, 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.

The new playbook from Poonawalla’s firm may now involve booster shots and adapted vaccines.

With the virus changing, COVAX has further warned that “manufacturers must be prepared to adjust to the SARS-CoV-2 viral evolution, including potentially providing future booster shots and adapted vaccines, if found to be scientifically necessary. Trials must be designed and maintained to allow any changes in efficacy to be assessed, and to be of sufficient scale and diversity to enable clear interpretation of results," the WHO said.

Mint reached out to Poonawalla, but he did not comment.

India has only one mutant strain of coronavirus, the UK variant, circulating. The government has cited studies to say that Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin works against the mutant strain. It has, however, said that the surveillance for mutations in the virus will be increased after the vaccine efficacy issue was brought to its notice by South Africa.

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