British clinical trials of vaccines against new variants of COVID-19 will start in the summer to prepare updated jabs for the autumn if variants evade the current inoculations, the Oxford University vaccine group’s lead researcher has told the UK Parliament.
Prof. Sarah Gilbert said her team is producing an initial group of vaccines against new variants that are at least partially resistant to the current jabs being rolled out.
The new versions of the vaccine are being produced in case COVID-19 variants substantially evade immunity provided by the current jabs.
A small trial in South Africa found that a variant that emerged there, and which has since arrived in the UK, is partially resistant to the Oxford vaccine.
Vaccines from Novavax and Johnson & Johnson also appear less effective against the South African variant.
“We need to make preparations so that everything is in place, if it turns out that we do need to do it,” Gilbert told British MPs.
“Currently, the plans are to be ready for an immunization campaign in the autumn, so before going into the winter season we’d have a new variant vaccine available if it turns out that’s what’s going to be required,” she added.
“If we see the emergence of a new strain very close to that date, it’s going to be difficult to go through this whole process, because we do need to conduct a clinical study and get regulatory approval, in time to be vaccinated before the winter.”
Gilbert said trials are underway to judge whether mixing vaccines will provide better protection against COVID-19 by stimulating the immune system in different ways.
The Oxford vaccine group is also looking at producing nasal spray and pill alternatives to the standard inoculation.