| 17 April 2024, Wednesday |

AstraZeneca Vaccine May Be ‘Less Effective’ Against Indian Strain of COVID, Says UK Health Secretary

The United Kingdom on Monday put India on its ‘Red List’, banning all incoming travellers from the country and allowing only those who carry a British or an Irish passport. UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock said that the decision was taken due to a new ‘double mutation’ variant detected in the South Asian country.

British Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said that the vaccines developed by the United Kingdom may be “less effective” against the COVID strain found in India, which is also known as B.1.617.

“A new double mutation variant is reportedly more potent and dozens of cases have been detected here in the United Kingdom too. So can the health secretary clarify, in order to assuage community concerns, that our vaccines are effective against the new variant?” Labour parliamentarian Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi asked Hancock in the House of Commons.

​“We simply don’t know that. We are acting on a precautionary basis because I can’t give him that assurance. And of course, we are looking into that question as fast as possible. But that is the core of my concern about the variant first found in India: the vaccines may be less effective, in terms of transmission and in terms of reducing hospitalisation and death,” replied Hancock.

“It is the same concern that we have with the variant first found in South Africa and is the core reason why we took the decision today,” added the UK Health Secretary.

At present, the UK is administering three vaccines to its population — one jointly developed by AstraZeneca and the Oxford University, as well as the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines.

The AstraZeneca and Oxford University Vaccine, produced in the UK, is also powering India’s vaccination programme. In India, the British vaccine is being developed by the Pune-based Serum Institute of India (SII), the world’s largest vaccine manufacturing company.

The discussion on the effectiveness of COVID vaccines in the UK Parliament came hours after Prime Minister Boris Johnson cancelled a planned state visit to India against the backdrop of an exponential surge in infections in the South Asian country in recent weeks.

On the same day, the United Kingdom also put India on the “Red List”, thus banning incoming travellers from the country over fears about the new variant, said the health secretary.

Only those with British or Irish passports, or people with United Kingdom residency will be permitted within the country’s borders, provided they have undergone a mandatory 10-day quarantine period.

Hancock said on Monday that 103 cases of the Indian variant have been detected in the United Kingdom to date, with the health authorities also marking it as a Variant Under Investigation (VUI).

Meanwhile, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has advised American citizens to avoid travel to India even if fully vaccinated, in view of the new COVID variants being detected in the country.

The Indian variant carries two mutations, E484Q and L452R, according to genome sequencing of samples carried out by INSACOG, a grouping of 10 national laboratories involved in identifying the variants of concern (VOC) in India.

Almost 50 percent of the samples which have tested positive for COVID in the Indian state of Maharashtra have been found to be those of the new variant, as per the same study. Another report, published by India’s National Institute of Virology earlier this month, found that as many as 61 percent of the samples it collected from Maharashtra state were from the new strain.

Maharashtra is the worst-hit Indian state in the ongoing second wave, having recorded over 3.8 million infections to date, as per the latest data from India’s federal health ministry.

In spite of evidence that the new variant is dominating the COVID samples in the genome sequencing, federal and state authorities have so far refused to link it to the spurt in COVID cases in recent weeks.

India recorded 259,170 new infections, according to government data, a slight decrease over the daily infection tally on Monday. However, the daily death toll recorded on Tuesday was the sharpest-ever spike in a single day, with 1,761 fatalities being reported across the country.

India has recorded a daily increase of more than 200,000 cases for six consecutive days now. To date, the nation has recorded more than 15.3 million COVID cases, the second-highest case count in the world.

  • Sputnik