The University of Oxford yesterday injected its new variant vaccine into people for the first time.
Academics who created the original jab have updated their blueprint to target the variant first identified in South Africa, also known as B.1.351 or Beta.
This Variant of Concern emerged last year and is still in the UK at low levels. It is also less susceptible to the vaccines than other strains, scientists believe.
It became the prime candidate for the first “variant vaccine” and the AstraZeneca/Oxford team are now trialling the booster jab — called AZD2816 — in 2,250 volunteers from the UK, Poland, Brazil and South Africa.
It was previously tested in a lab and on mice and the researchers said: "AZD2816 is immunogenic after a single dose and when used as a booster dose in animals primed with [the] original vaccine.”
Where in the UK vaccine booster trials will take place and what vaccines are being considered
People are only eligible for the trial if they have already received two doses of an approved Covid vaccine more than three months prior to the study.
Sir Mene Pangalos, Executive Vice President of BioPharmaceuticals R&D at AstraZeneca, said: ‘It is important we continue to stay ahead of genetically distinct variants of the coronavirus.
“AZD2816 should help broaden individuals’ immune response against emerging variants of concern.”
How many people have been vaccinated?
Professor Sir Andrew Pollard, chief investigator and director of the Oxford Vaccine Group at the University of Oxford, said: "Testing booster doses of existing vaccines and new variant vaccines is important to ensure we are best prepared to stay ahead of the pandemic coronavirus, should their use be needed."
The currently-approved jabs are based on the SARS-CoV-2 strain which first emerged in Wuhan in 2019, but the new vaccine copied the ten mutations to the spike protein which exist in the Beta strain.
These include D614G which boosted infectivity; K417N, E484K, N501Y which all contributed to antibody evasion; and L452R which made existing antibodies less potent.
Initial data from the trial is expected later this year.