Expert says we’ll need to be prepared to adapt, after trial indicates Covid-19 vaccine which NZ has on order could be less effective against variant.

Trial results suggesting the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine might only offer minimal protection against mild and moderate doses of the Covid-19 South African variant is not the news we were looking for, a New Zealand vaccinologist says.
But we needed to be prepared this might happen, Associate Professor Helen Petousis-Harris, from the University of Auckland, said. We have to be prepared to adapt to whatever the virus throws at us.
New Zealand has ordered 7.6 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which would be enough to vaccinate 3.8m people.
A woman receives the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine in England during January.
It also has agreements to buy enough of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine for 750,000 people, enough doses of a vaccine from Novavax for 5.36m people, and enough vaccines from Janssen Pharmaceutica for possibly up to 5m people.
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South Africa has put its rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine on hold after seeing results from a trial, which involved 2000 people.
Overnight, the Covax global vaccine collaboration, which is co-led by the World Health Organisation, issued a statement on the AstraZeneca vaccine.
A drive-through testing station in Cape Town, South Africa.
It acknowledged preliminary data from the trial showed minimal effectiveness of the AstraZeneca vaccine at preventing mild to moderate Covid-19 disease caused by the B.1.351 viral variant.
But it was important to note analysis of other data showed that in the context of viral settings without that variant, the AstraZeneca vaccine did offer protection against severe disease, hospitalisation and death, the Covax statement said.
This means it is vitally important now to determine the vaccines effectiveness when it comes to preventing more severe illness caused by the B.1.351 variant.
Despite the developments, Petousis-Harris said the AstraZeneca jab looked like being a good vaccine, and much of the discussion around it looked to be a little unfounded.
I think already preparations have been made to be able to adapt these vaccines a little like you might adapt a flu vaccine, she said. Developers are looking at tweaking the formulation to adapt to the emergent strains that look to be resistant to the vaccine immunity.
It was for medicines regulator Medsafe to decide whether New Zealand should take the AstraZeneca vaccine.
Last week, Medsafe gave provisional approval for the Pfizer vaccine to be used in New Zealand, making it the first Covid-19 vaccine to get the go ahead for use in this country.
Dr Ashley Bloomfield outlines who will get the provisionally approved Covid-19 vaccine first.
Medsafe would look at the risk-to-benefit ratio and would not approve something that did not look like it was going to be effective, Petousis-Harris said. It would have a vast amount of data to base its decision on.
Theyre going to be completely focused on assessing it in the New Zealand context, she said.
The issues being raised about the AstraZeneca vaccine showed why New Zealand had hedged its bets across several vaccines and had a diverse portfolio. Its a tall order to expect all vaccines to be equally successful.
The vaccine rollout under way in many countries would make a substantial difference and quite quickly, Petousis-Harris said. But you need to define quite quickly. Its a bit longer than a couple of weeks.
Paramedics Michael Makhethe, left and Clive Moleso working for the Saaberie Chishty ambulance service, stand outside the house of a Covid-19 patient in Lenasia, South Africa,
Latest information on the Our World in Data site shows Israel, which started its vaccination programme on December 19, is among those leading the pack in terms of the number of vaccines administered, with 64 doses for every 100 people.
The United Arab Emirates is slightly ahead in terms of the proportion of the population to have had at least one vaccine dose, at 41.1 per cent compared to Israels 40.2 per cent.
Petousis-Harris said it seemed the effect of the vaccination programme was showing up in Israel, where a large proportion of the older population had been vaccinated.
Certainly the experience so far is holding up that these vaccines are very effective. But were only a few weeks in.