G7 foreign ministers say will work to expand COVID-19 vaccine production

FILE PHOTO: The word “COVID-19” is reflected in a drop on a syringe needle in this illustration taken November 9, 2020. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

LONDON (Reuters) – The Group of Seven foreign ministers pledged on Wednesday to work with industry to expand the production of affordable COVID-19 vaccines, but stopped short of calling for a waiver of intellectual property rights of the pharma firms.

“We commit to working with  industry  to facilitate expanded manufacturing at scale of affordable COVID-19  vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics and their component parts,” the G7 foreign ministers said in a joint statement after a meeting in London.

The ministers said the work would include “promoting partnerships between companies, and  encouraging voluntary licensing and tech transfer agreements on mutually agreed terms”.

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Spain to Test Mixing COVID Vaccines After Restricting AZ Shot

MADRID (Reuters) – Spain will study the effects of mixing different coronavirus vaccines, government researchers said on Monday, responding to shifting guidelines on the safety of the AstraZeneca’s shot.

Along with several other European countries, Spain restricted vaccines produced by the Anglo-Swedish drug maker to people over 60 after regulators linked it to a rare form of brain blood clots, mostly in younger women.

“After decisions by various European public health authorities to suspend use of the AstraZeneca vaccine in under 60 year olds, we are setting out to urgently find scientific evidence to support decision making around possible alternatives,” Raquel Yotti, director of the Carlos III Health Institute, told a news conference.

The trial will draw on a sample of 600 people of all ages from across Spain, said Jesus Frias Iniesta, clinical research coordinator at Carlos III.

“The study’s objective is…to determine within 28 days whether a second dose of the Pfizer vaccine can be given to patients who have received the AstraZeneca vaccine,” he said.

A UK study on mixing vaccines was expanded last week to include shots made by Moderna and Novavax, while France and Germany are considering giving an alternative to under 60s who received a first dose of AstraZeneca.

Separately, Spain’s El Mundo newspaper reported the health ministry was considering delaying second doses for under 80 year olds to maximise the number of people who received at least one injection.

Patients would receive a second shot of vaccines produced by Pfizer and Moderna eight weeks after the first, El Mundo said. The European Medicines agency recommends a 28-day gap between Moderna shots and 21 days between Pfizer.

The proposal would signal a sharp departure from the current national strategy, which favours giving vulnerable age groups a full course of two shots as quickly as possible.

The Health Ministry was not immediately available for comment.

Several real-world studies have shown a first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine provides a high level of protection.

Despite delays to the deployment of the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine and supply disruptions at AstraZeneca, Spain still expects to have half its 47-million population fully inoculated by late July.

Data released on Friday showed 7% of the population had received a full course, while 19% had received at least one dose.

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3 mRNA vaccines researchers are working on (that aren’t COVID)

3 mRNA vaccines researchers are working on (that aren't COVID)

The world’s first mRNA vaccines—the COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna—have made it in record time from the laboratory, through successful clinical trials, regulatory approval and into people’s arms.

The high efficiency of protection against severe disease, the safety seen in clinical trials and the speed with which the vaccines were designed are set to transform how we develop vaccines in the future.

Once researchers have set up the mRNA manufacturing technology, they can potentially produce mRNA against any target. Manufacturing mRNA vaccines also does not need living cells, making them easier to produce than some other vaccines.

So mRNA vaccines could potentially be used to prevent a range of diseases, not just COVID-19.

Remind me again, what’s mRNA?

Messenger ribonucleic acid (or mRNA for short) is a type of genetic material that tells your body how to make proteins. The two mRNA vaccines for SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, deliver fragments of this mRNA into your cells.

Once inside, your body uses instructions in the mRNA to make SARS-CoV-2 spike proteins. So when you encounter the virus’ spike proteins again, your body’s immune system will already have a head start in how to handle it.

So after COVID-19, which mRNA vaccines are researchers working on next? Here are three worth knowing about.

1. Flu vaccine

Currently, we need to formulate new versions of the flu vaccine each year to protect us from the strains the World Health Organization (WHO) predicts will be circulating in flu season. This is a constant race to monitor how the virus evolves and how it spreads in real time.

Moderna is already turning its attention to an mRNA vaccine against seasonal influenza. This would target the four seasonal strains of the virus the WHO predicts will be circulating.

But the holy grail is a universal flu vaccine. This would protect against all strains of the virus (not just what the WHO predicts) and so wouldn’t need to be updated each year. The same researchers who pioneered mRNA vaccines are also working on a universal flu vaccine.

The researchers used the vast amounts of data on the influenza genome to find the mRNA code for the most “highly conserved” structures of the virus. This is the mRNA least likely to mutate and lead to structural or functional changes in viral proteins.

They then prepared a mixture of mRNAs to express four different viral proteins. These included one on the stalk-like structure on the outside of the flu virus, two on the surface, and one hidden inside the virus particle.

Studies in mice show this experimental vaccine is remarkably potent against diverse and difficult-to-target strains of influenza. This is a strong contender as a universal flu vaccine.

2. Malaria vaccine

Malaria arises through infection with the single-celled parasite Plasmodium falciparum, delivered when mosquitoes bite. There is no vaccine for it.

However, US researchers working with pharmaceutical company GSK have filed a patent for an mRNA vaccine against malaria.

The mRNA in the vaccine codes for a parasite protein called PMIF. By teaching our bodies to target this protein, the aim is to train the immune system to eradicate the parasite.

There have been promising results of the experimental vaccine in mice and early-stage human trials are being planned in the UK.

This malaria mRNA vaccine is an example of a self-amplifying mRNA vaccine. This means very small amounts of mRNA need to be made, packaged and delivered, as the mRNA will make more copies of itself once inside our cells. This is the next generation of mRNA vaccines after the “standard” mRNA vaccines seen so far against COVID-19.

3. Cancer vaccines

We already have vaccines that prevent infection with viruses that cause cancer. For example, hepatitis B vaccine prevents some types of liver cancer and the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine prevents cervical cancer.

But the flexibility of mRNA vaccines lets us think more broadly about tackling cancers not caused by viruses.

Some types of tumors have antigens or proteins not found in normal cells. If we could train our immune systems to identify these tumor-associated antigens then our immune cells could kill the cancer.

Cancer vaccines can be targeted to specific combinations of these antigens. BioNTech is developing one such mRNA vaccine that shows promise for people with advanced melanoma. CureVac has developed one for a specific type of lung cancer, with results from early clinical trials.

Then there’s the promise of personalized anti-cancer mRNA vaccines. If we could design an individualized vaccine specific to each patient’s tumor then we could train their immune system to fight their own individual cancer. Several research groups and companies are working on this.

Yes, there are challenges ahead

However, there are several hurdles to overcome before mRNA vaccines against other medical conditions are used more widely.

Current mRNA vaccines need to be kept frozen, limiting their use in developing countries or in remote areas. But Moderna is working on developing an mRNA vaccine that can be kept in a fridge.

Researchers also need to look at how these vaccines are delivered into the body. While injecting into the muscle works for mRNA COVID-19 vaccines, delivery into a vein may be better for cancer vaccines.

The vaccines need to be shown to be safe and effective in large-scale human clinical trials, ahead of regulatory approval. However, as regulatory bodies around the world have already approved mRNA COVID-19 vaccines, there are far fewer regulatory hurdles than a year ago.

The high cost of personalized mRNA cancer vaccines may also be an issue.

Finally, not all countries have the facilities to make mRNA vaccines on a large scale, including Australia.

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Tweaked COVID vaccines in testing aim to fend off variants

Tweaked COVID vaccines in testing aim to fend off variants

Dozens of Americans are rolling up their sleeves for a third dose of COVID-19 vaccine—this time, shots tweaked to guard against a worrisome mutated version of the virus.

Make no mistake: The vaccines currently being rolled out across the U.S. offer strong protection. But new studies of experimental updates to the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines mark a critical first step toward an alternative if the virus eventually outsmarts today’s shots.

“We need to be ahead of the virus,” said Dr. Nadine Rouphael of Emory University, who is helping to lead a study of Moderna’s tweaked candidate. “We know what it’s like when we’re behind.”

It’s not clear if or when protection would wane enough to require an update but, “realistically we want to turn COVID into a sniffle,” she added.

Viruses constantly evolve, and the world is in a race to vaccinate millions and tamp down the coronavirus before even more mutants emerge. More than 119 million Americans have had at least one vaccine dose, and 22% of the population is fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Much of the rest of the world is far behind that pace.

Already an easier-to-spread version found in Britain just months ago has become the most common variant now circulating in the United States, one that’s fortunately vaccine-preventable.

But globally, there’s concern that first-generation vaccines may offer less protection against a different variant that first emerged in South Africa. All the major vaccine makers are tweaking their recipes in case an update against that so-called B.1.351 virus is needed. Now experimental doses from Moderna and Pfizer are being put to the test.

In suburban Atlanta, Emory asked people who received Moderna’s original vaccine a year ago in a first-stage study to also help test the updated shot. Volunteer Cole Smith said returning wasn’t a tough decision.

“The earlier one, it was a great success and, you know, millions of people are getting vaccinated now,” Smith told The Associated Press. “If we’re helping people with the old one, why not volunteer and help people with the new one?”

The study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, isn’t just testing Moderna’s experimental variant vaccine as a third-shot immune booster. Researchers at Emory and three other medical centers also are enrolling volunteers who haven’t yet received any kind of COVID-19 vaccination.

They want to know: Could people be vaccinated just with two doses of the variant vaccine and not the original? Or one dose of each kind? Or even get the original and the variant dose combined into the same injection?

Separately, the Food and Drug Administration has given Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech permission to start similar testing of their own tweaked vaccine. The companies called it part of a proactive strategy to enable rapid deployment of updated vaccines if they’re ever needed.

The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, like the majority of COVID-19 vaccines being used around the world, train the body to recognize the spike protein that is the outer coating of the coronavirus. Those spikes are how the virus latches onto human cells.

Mutations occur whenever any virus makes copies of itself. Usually those mistakes make no difference. But if a lot of changes pile up in the spike protein—or those changes are in especially key locations—the mutant might escape an immune system primed to watch for an intruder that looks a bit different.

The good news: It’s fairly easy to update the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines. They’re made with a piece of genetic code called messenger RNA that tells the body how to make some harmless spike copies that in turn train immune cells. The companies simply swapped out the original vaccine’s genetic code with mRNA for the mutated spike protein—this time, the one from South Africa.

Studies getting underway this month include a few hundred people, very different than the massive testing needed to prove the original shots work. Scientists must make sure the mRNA substitution doesn’t trigger different side effects.

On the protection side, they’re closely measuring if the updated vaccine prompts the immune system to produce antibodies—which fend off infection—as robustly as the original shots do. Importantly, lab tests also can show if those antibodies recognize not just the variant from South Africa but other, more common virus versions, too.

Some good news: Antibodies aren’t the only defense. NIH researchers recently looked at another arm of the immune system, T cells that fight back after infection sets in. Lab tests showed T cells in the blood of people who recovered from COVID-19 long before worrisome variants appeared nonetheless recognized mutations from the South African version. Vaccines trigger T cell production, too, and may be key to preventing the worst outcomes.

Still, no vaccine is 100% effective—even without the mutation threat, occasionally the fully vaccinated will get COVID-19. So how would authorities know an update is needed? A red flag would be a jump in hospitalizations—not just positive tests—among vaccinated people who harbor a new mutant.

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South Korea Pays Price for Reliance on COVAX, Scrambles for Vaccines

SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korean authorities are facing a backlash for relying on global vaccine-sharing scheme COVAX for a bulk of its COVID-19 shots as shipment delays threaten to slow the country’s inoculation programme.

Once praised by the World Health Organization for its decision to procure vaccines through the global scheme, South Korea is now facing criticism at home as the government scrambles to meet the supply shortfall.

South Korea, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam are among countries to be hit by shipment delays to vaccines they have been promised following export curbs by manufacturer India.

In February, South Korea slashed its first quarter vaccination target from 1.3 million people to just 750,000 due to adjustments in the supply timetable of the 2.6 million doses of AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine from COVAX.

The latest COVAX shipment disruption announced earlier this week – that it would only receive 432,000 doses instead of 690,000 and delivery would be delayed to around the third week of April – is the second time that South Korea’s vaccine rollout has been hit by delayed supply from the scheme.

“The government should no longer cause public anxiety with the vaccines,” Lee Yong-ho, an independent lawmaker who sits on parliament’s health and welfare committee, said.

“It should either impose export curbs on the locally produced vaccines until the supply uncertainties are resolved, or come up with a special vaccine procurement strategy and bring the originally contracted quantity as planned.”

South Korean health authorities said they were not considering restricting exports of locally produced vaccines, but instead, holding talks with vaccine makers and distributors to advance delivery timelines.

The efforts appear to be bearing fruit with the government announcing on Thursday that delivery of the 432,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccines from COVAX would be brought forward to Saturday from the third week of April.

“(We) have accelerated administrative process and were able to bring forward the schedule from what COVAX had initially informed us,” the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency said.

The fluctuating shipment schedules have raised concerns about the country’s aim to immunise 12 million people by June, reaching herd immunity by November, but government officials have assured the goal is achievable.

“This is a very achievable target as we have factored supply schedule and our inoculation capability into the calculation,” Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun told a news conference on Thursday.

Assuming no further delays, South Korea is scheduled to receive 13.7 million doses in the second quarter — 6 million from Pfizer Inc, 7 million from AstraZeneca and 729,000 from COVAX.

Oh Se-hoon, opposition candidate for Seoul’s mayoral by-election, attacked the government this week for its slow vaccine rollout, which he said was the world’s 105th to kick off.

The slow rollout was partly due to the country’s early strategy to focus more on containing the virus through aggressive testing and contact tracing than striking bilateral vaccine deals.

While most wealthy nations had shunned joint purchases through COVAX, raising concerns over vaccine inequity, South Korea committed to procure vaccines from the scheme which earned praise from the WHO.

“The Republic of Korea despite being a high-income country that could easily afford to buy vaccines through bilateral deals has waited its turn for vaccines through COVAX,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on March 22.

Mike Ryan, WHO’s top emergency expert, also lauded South Korea’s overall efforts to contain the COVID-19 disease.

He said the country not only developed a very successful surveillance and testing regime but exported those tests around the world, kept the disease under control in a very significant way, and have numbers of disease that are “the envy of the world.”

South Korea reported 551 new cases on Wednesday, bringing the country’s total infections to 103,639, with 1,735 deaths.

Despite international plaudits, some like lawmaker Lee said the slow rollout raises doubts about the government’s plan to reach herd immunity this year.

“With just 1.5% of the total 52 million population vaccinated, it is questionable with current supply when we will ever reach the herd immunity.”

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Japan's vaccine minister says inoculation pace to accelerate in May

TOKYO (Reuters) -Japan’s vaccine minister, Taro Kono, said on Monday that the pace of coronavirus inoculation in the country would accelerate in May, but that the Tokyo Olympics, set to start in July, were not factoring into the schedule.

FILE PHOTO: Japan’s vaccination programme chief Taro Kono attends a news conference on the country’s preparations to begin vaccinating health workers, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Tokyo, Japan February 16, 2021. REUTERS/Issei Kato

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has pledged to have enough doses for the country’s 126 million people by June, before the July 23 start of the Tokyo Olympics. Supplies have been trickling in from Pfizer Inc. factories in Europe, but are expected to accelerate in the coming months.

“Starting in May, there will be no bottleneck in supply,” Kono told Reuters in an interview. Officially the minister in charge of administrative reform, Kono was tapped in January to lead Japan’s COVID-19 vaccination push.

He added that he expected to be able to get 10 million doses of vaccines each week in May but that the Olympics, which a majority of Japanese have said should be postponed or cancelled, were not a factor in his scheduling.

Japan started its vaccination campaign last month, later than most major economies and dependent on imported doses of Pfizer’s vaccine. Shots developed by AstraZeneca PLC and Moderna Inc now await local regulatory approval.

Kono said the AstraZeneca vaccine would be approved “hopefully sometime soon”, adding that the decision was up to the health ministry. Having the AstraZeneca vaccine made domestically would save him from having to “worry about the transparency mechanism” that the European Union has used to limit exports of vaccines made there.

“If we have somebody manufacturing vaccines in Japan, it would take off half my headache,” Kono said.

As of Friday, just over 780,000 people in Japan, mostly healthcare workers, have received at least one vaccine dose.

While Japan has escaped the worst ravages of the pandemic seen elsewhere, cases have begun ticking up again recently, prompting concern among some officials about a potential “fourth wave” of the pandemic. Adding to those concerns, a report quoted by NHK national television warned that the country’s vaccination pace might not be able to keep up with the increase in cases.

Kono said that while the vaccine prevents symptoms, people shouldn’t depend on it alone and need to maintain preventive measures such as wearing masks and hand washing.

Though he frequently tops public opinion polls as a top choice for prime minister, Kono sidestepped questions about when he might take up the job. A general election needs to be held later this year.

“Right now, I’m doing my job,” he said.

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Canada recommends AstraZeneca vaccine despite U.S. criticism of trial data

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OTTAWA (Reuters) – Canada on Tuesday said the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine is safe and will continue to be recommended for use despite criticism from U.S. health officials of the drugmaker’s analysis of the shot’s efficacy, health officials said.

“The message is that the efficacy and the safety of the vaccine have been shown,” senior Health Canada official Marc Berthiaume told reporters. “It continues to be beneficial for Canadians to prevent COVID-19.”

Deliveries of coronavirus vaccines are ramping up in Canada, with some 2 million doses of the Pfizer Inc and Moderna Inc vaccines coming in this week. The United States has said it is sharing 1.5 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine with Canada as early as this week.

The U.S. National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases said on Monday that the board charged with ensuring the accuracy of AstraZeneca’s latest trial said the company may have given an incomplete view of the shot’s effectiveness. The company has since said it will publish up-to-date results here from its latest trial within 48 hours.

“We will look at the complete data package (from the U.S.) sometime in April, and will assess and communicate the results,” said Supriya Sharma, chief medical adviser at Health Canada, the federal health ministry. “The bottom line is: that doesn’t change recommendations on the AstraZeneca vaccine at this time.”

There will be a delay of a day or two of the delivery of the Moderna vaccines this week, Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health said on Twitter on Tuesday, adding that bookings for shots will not be affected.

Also on Tuesday, Canada said it would give C$23.7 million ($18.9 million) to the province of Ontario to open more voluntary isolation sites for those who catch the virus and need a place to quarantine as cases surge during a third wave.

Canada has recorded about 940,000 virus infections and more than 22,700 deaths from COVID-19.

($1 = 1.2561 Canadian dollars)

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ACAAI updates guidance for allergic reactions to COVID-19 vaccines

ACAAI updates guidance for allergic reactions to COVID-19 vaccines

(HealthDay)—The American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI) has updated its guidelines regarding the risk for allergic reactions with COVID-19 vaccines.

According to the recommendations, anyone receiving the vaccine should be screened to determine the possible risk for allergic reaction to mRNA vaccines (Moderna and Pfizer) and adenovirus vector vaccines (Johnson & Johnson); those with a history of severe allergic reaction to other vaccines should be referred to an allergist/immunologist for further evaluation. Anyone with a severe or immediate allergic reaction of any severity within four hours of receiving the first COVID-19 shot should not receive the second dose and may be referred to an allergist/immunologist.

The vaccines should be administered in a health care setting where anaphylaxis can be treated; individuals should be observed for 15 to 30 minutes after vaccination. The mRNA and adenovirus vector vaccines should not be administered to those with a known history of severe allergic reaction to any component of a vaccine. The component causing anaphylaxis has not been identified, but polyethylene glycol is an ingredient in mRNA vaccines that can cause anaphylaxis, and polysorbate 80, an ingredient in the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, can also cause anaphylaxis. Individuals with common allergies are no more likely to have an allergic reaction to the mRNA vaccines. The mRNA and adenovirus vector vaccine are not live vaccines and can be administered to individuals who are immunocompromised.

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Why do we need booster shots, and could we mix and match different COVID vaccines?

Why do we need booster shots, and could we mix and match different COVID vaccines?

The COVID vaccine rollout is now underway in Australia and around the world. It’s incredible we’ve been able to develop and produce safe and effective vaccines so quickly—but the current crop of vaccines might not protect us forever.

Fortunately, researchers are already developing and testing booster shots. So what are booster shots, and when might we need them?

First a prime, then a boost

The first time you give someone a dose of vaccine against a particular infection, it’s called a prime. You’re getting your immune response ready to roll.

Each time you give another dose against that same infection, it’s called a boost. You’re building on immunity you already have from the first dose.

Importantly, giving smaller doses in multiple shots is often better than a large dose of vaccine in a single shot. This is because our immune system builds on our immunity like bricks in a wall; each level needs to be laid before the next layer is built.

Booster shots take advantage of a phenomenon called “immunological memory”. Our immune cells essentially remember vaccines we’ve previously received, and respond much more quickly and vigorously to subsequent shots, building our immunity to levels at which we can be confident we’ll be protected.

When might I need a boost?

There are three different situations in which you might need a boost.

First, several doses of a vaccine can be given relatively quickly, one after another, to rapidly build someone’s immunity against a given infection. A good example is the whooping cough vaccine. It’s initially given at around two, four and six months of age to rapidly build immunity in infants, who are most at risk from whooping cough.

This is also the approach most COVID vaccines use. The first shot gets your immune system going but immunity is unreliable. The second shot leads to more consistent protection.

Second, we can give a booster shot if immunity drops over time, or “wanes,” to restore someone’s immunity to optimal levels. For example, we know immunity to tetanus can drop over time, so we recommend tetanus boosters every ten years.

Immunity appears to be strong three months after the Moderna vaccine and six months after the AstraZeneca vaccine, but we don’t yet have a full picture of how long immunity to COVID-19 lasts after vaccination. Scientists will continue to monitor this to determine if and when we’ll need these type of boosters for COVID.

Third, if the virus “mutates” or changes substantially over time, this can make it challenging for our immune cells to recognize the virus, effectively lowering our immunity again. A good example here is the influenza vaccine. The ‘flu virus can change a lot from year to year so, to make sure immunity remains high, we give annual boosters tailored to new strains.

On the front foot with viral variants

SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, has already undergone a number of changes. We’re still learning how this might affect the efficacy of different vaccines.

But vaccine manufacturers are already adjusting their COVID vaccines to better target new variants. Moderna, for example, has just administered the first doses of an updated vaccine to volunteers in a new clinical trial. They’re intending to find out how well it works against B.1.351, the variant first identified in South Africa.

The updated vaccines tweak the “antigen”—the molecule used by our immune cells to target a specific virus. But they can use the same basic design and manufacturing processes.

As a result, they probably won’t have to go through the full gamut of clinical testing again. Regulatory hurdles are similarly streamlined with updated ‘flu vaccines.

Rapid development of these updated vaccines will put us on the front foot in our fight against COVID-19.

More of the same, or something a little different?

With boosting, you can end up with a higher level of immunity if you wait longer between doses. This is because our immune cells need a rest before they can respond to additional doses. We’ve seen this with the AstraZeneca vaccine where a longer delay between doses, up to 12 weeks, leads to much better protection.

It’s also possible we could generate greater immunity if we use different vaccines, one after the other, rather than repeating the same vaccine. This is called heterologous prime boosting.

We’re not sure why a mix-and-match approach can be more potent. But it’s possible combining two different vaccines—which give the same antigen target but stimulate the immune system in different ways—could better focus our immune cells’ attention on the right target.

We haven’t really taken advantage of heterologous vaccines in real-world settings yet. The first clinical heterologous vaccine was an Ebola vaccine approved in May 2020, while the Sputnik V COVID vaccine is also a heterologous vaccine.

But that could change. While there are now multiple approved COVID vaccines, vaccine rollout has been challenging. In the United Kingdom, the official policy is to use the same vaccine for both shots. But if the vaccine used for the first shot is not known or not available, people can still receive a booster with what is available.

Meanwhile, a clinical trial in the UK is evaluating the immune response when the Pfizer vaccine is followed by the AstraZeneca vaccine, and vice versa, as compared two doses of the same vaccine.

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AstraZeneca vaccine’s promise now drawn into question

vaccine

Hailed as a cheap, easy to store not-for-profit vaccine, the AstraZeneca shot has suffered a growing number of setbacks.

In the latest, around a dozen countries have suspended its use as a precaution after blood clots suffered by some of those vaccinated.

‘Accidentally’ great

The British laboratory made headlines in November when it claimed its jab could match the 90 percent effectiveness of the rival and much more expensive Pfizer/BioNTech jab, which has to be kept at extremely low temperatures.

But that success rate was only if half a dose was given for the first shot with a full second dose a month later.

However, it later emerged that these results were obtained by accident when a half dose was given by mistake, raising questions about the robustness of the tests.

On average, trials showed it to be about 60 percent effective, though in real world conditions it has so far performed much better.

Supply shortages

The Anglo-Swedish drug company was accused of bad faith by European leaders in January over massive shortfalls in the delivery of vaccines to EU countries while millions of Britons were getting the shot.

The stand-off prompted the EU to slap export controls on vaccines and send inspectors into a plant in Belgium where the firm said it was having production problems.

Livid that AstraZeneca would only be able to deliver one third of the promised 120 million vaccines in the first quarter, Brussels threatened to trigger an emergency clause in the Brexit deal before quickly backtracking.

Governments’ mixed messages

When the EU experts finally approved the shot, health officials in a number of states including France and Germany refused to authorise it for over 65s.

Faced with vaccine shortages, both countries as well as Italy later made it available to some older people with serious health risks.

By then the bloc was facing rising scepticism about the shot, with Angela Merkel forced to praise it with doctors only giving a fifth of doses that had been delivered to Germany.

S.Africa sends back doses

While AstraZeneca and many scientists said the jab had been the victim of unfair coverage, the bad news just kept coming.

South Africa asked to send back one million doses after scientists found it gave “minimal protection” against mild and moderate cases of the country’s more contagious virus strain.

Not a charity

The vaccine won plaudits initially for its non-profit stance, but last March Oxford University, which developed it, backed off its pledge to donate the rights to any drugmaker.

AstraZeneca said it would provide doses on a cost basis for as long as the pandemic lasts. But it was later accused of reneging on this when it emerged that it could up the price as early as July.

Blood clot worries

The latest problem emerged last week when a growing number of countries started following Denmark in suspending their campaigns after a reported link with blood clots.

On Friday the European Medicines Agency, which is the EU’s drugs regulator, said severe allergies should be added to its side effects warning.

The director of the Oxford Vaccine Group said on Monday there was no link between the jab and blood clotting, and the World Health Organization has so far insisted there is no reason to stop using it, describing it as an “excellent vaccine”.

However, WHO experts plan to meet on the vaccine on Tuesday, while the EU regulator will do the same on Thursday.

The countries suspending it include some of the world’s richest, such as France, Germany and Italy, who are awaiting a further assessment by the EU regulator.

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