AstraZeneca examining impact of new Covid variant on its vaccine

Scientists at AstraZeneca in Cambridge Credit: ITV Anglia

Cambridge-based pharmaceutical firm AstraZeneca said it is looking into the impact its vaccine has on a new Covid variant - which could be more resistant to current jabs.

The new strain has been been renamed Omicron and has been designated a "variant of concern" by the World Health Organization (WHO).The strain was first discovered in South Africa and has now reached Belgium - promoting the government to impose travel restrictions to and from southern Africa.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid said there is "huge international concern" surrounding the strain after banning flights from South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe and Namibia to limit its spread.

WHO experts said there is early evidence to suggest Omicron has an “increased risk of reinfection” Credit: PA

AstraZeneca  said it is conducting research in locations where the variant has been identified and has "developed, in close collaboration with Oxford University, a vaccine platform that enables us to respond quickly to new variants that may emerge.

The firm is also testing its antibody combination drug against the new variant and is "hopeful" it "will retain efficacy.

Professor Sir Andrew Pollard, the director of the Oxford Vaccine Group, said: "At least from a speculative point of view we have some optimism that the vaccine should still work against a new variant for serious disease but really we need to wait several weeks to have that confirmed.

"It's extremely unlikely that a reboot of a pandemic in a vaccinated population like we saw last year is going to happen."

Prof Pollard said a new vaccine to combat Omicron could begin "very rapidly" if required.

"The processes of how one goes about developing a new vaccine are increasingly well-oiled, so if it's needed that is something that could be moved very rapidly."

  • What do we know about the Omicron variant and should we be worried?

The variant was first spotted in Botswana on November 11 and  has so far been identified in South Africa, Belgium, Hong Kong and Israel.

Countries around the world are currently racing to introduce travel bans and restrictions on southern African countries in an effort to contain Omicron's spread.

The UK currently has no known cases of the variant.

Experts have said vaccines can be tweaked to tackle new variants as they emerge.