While the world struggles to cope with the COVID pandemic through vaccination, the virus continues to mutate. To date, 5 variants are active in the US: alpha, beta, gamma, epsilon, and delta. And this list doesn’t even include the variation passed back to humans through minks in Europe.
Each time the virus mutates, it gains the capability to become more resistant to vaccines and treatments. This allows it to spread more easily and become deadlier – a problem we are currently facing with the beta variant.
This variant was first detected in South Africa in October 2020. It can spread faster than other variants and can even affect younger people with no comorbidities.
Recently, Novavax reported that its vaccine’s efficacy, which was 86% for the alpha variant, dropped to only 49% due to its beta counterpart. This has been the case for most other vaccine companies, who are likewise trying to keep up with the newer variants by changing their formulas.
Beating the beta variant
On Sunday, AstraZeneca announced the beginning of phase II/III clinical trial for its new beta variant focused vaccine AZD2816. They have started vaccinating the first few participants and plan on recruiting around 2250 people from the UK, South Africa, Brazil, and Poland.
According to Sir Mene Pangalos, Executive Vice President, BioPharmaceuticals R&D: “It is important we continue to stay ahead of genetically distinct variants of the coronavirus. AZD2816 should help broaden individual’s immune response against emerging variants of concern. Initiating the Phase II/III trial for AZD2816 means we can be prepared should a variant vaccine be required in the future.”
The new vaccine contains a modified version of the Vaxzevria (previously known as the COVID-19 Vaccine AstraZeneca) based on the beta variant’s properties. It can be administered to:
- Individuals who have received both doses of an mRNA vaccine – 3 months after their second dose
- individuals who have received one dose of Vaxzevria – 4 weeks after their first dose
- and unvaccinated individuals as two doses – 4 weeks apart
Moreover, the company expects to have initial data from the trial by the end of this year. Just in time to use the vaccine as a booster for vaccinated individuals.