A modified version of AstraZeneca's Covid-19 vaccine tailored to combat a coronavirus variant first documented in South Africa could be ready by the end of 2021, an AstraZeneca official in Austria said in an interview published yesterday.
Sarah Walters, AstraZeneca's Austria country manager, told the Kurier newspaper that studies, so far, indicating the existing AstraZeneca vaccine was less effective against the more infectious variant first documented in South Africa were "too small to draw final conclusions".
"In the meantime, AstraZeneca and Oxford University have started on modifications to the vaccine for the South African variant and we expect it will be ready by the end of the year, should it be needed," Walters told the Kurier.
Walters blamed challenges - including delivery delays for the AstraZeneca shot in the European Union - on the "complex process" of producing a vaccine, coupled with the extremely high demand arising from the coronavirus pandemic.
The Kurier interview did not directly address ongoing investigations into health concerns over the AstraZeneca shot. The EU has put a warning label on the vaccine over its possible linkage to extremely rare blood clots. But British and European Union medicine regulators have said that the overall benefits of using the vaccine outweigh any risks of rare clotting.
Her comments came as the EU's internal markets commissioner Thierry Breton yesterday hinted that the bloc might decide not to order AstraZeneca's coronavirus jab again following delays in delivering the first batches of the vaccine.
Brussels had originally ordered 120 million doses of the Anglo-Swedish group's jab for the 27 member states in the first quarter and 180 million in the second quarter.
But the drug maker "only delivered 30 million, thus creating the problems that everyone has seen," Breton said. And only another 70 million will be delivered in the second quarter, he continued, but added: "Nothing is decided. Talks are still ongoing".