AstraZeneca has announced that a booster jab of its vaccine is effective against the rapidly-spreading Omicron variant, citing data from its partners Oxford University.
The university reported that a three-dose course of Vaxzevria – AstraZeneca’s vaccine – neutralising levels against Omicron were broadly similar to the Delta variant after two doses.
Its study was completed by researches independent from those who worked on the vaccine with AstraZeneca.
The Anglo-Swedish drug maker also revealed antibody levels against Omicron after the booster shot were higher than antibodies in people who had been infected with and recovered naturally from COVID-19.
This follows similarly encouraging noises from rivals Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna.
It is a further sign of good news for Downing Street, after both Imperial College London and Edinburgh University reported the Omicron variant is milder than the formerly dominant Delta strain.
The government is currently weighing up whether to bring in more restrictions after Christmas to reduce the spread of Covid-19, but so far hospitalisations have not increased in line with soaring infections.
According to data cited by the British Heart Foundation, at least 25m people have had at least one dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which has been a key pillar in the UK’s efforts to vaccinate its population against Covid-19.
However, the UK has chiefly relied on Moderna and Pfizer for its urgent booster campaign this winter.
It is aiming to offer every adult in the UK a booster by the end of the year with 30m completed so far, and 840,038 top-up jabs recorded in the past day alone.
As it pushes to reach a million a day, Downing Street will be relieved to be able to include another key vaccine in its arsenal.
While the early data is positive, AstraZeneca also announced it is working with its Oxford partners to produce a vaccine tailored for Omicron, joining similar efforts from other vaccine-makers.
Meanwhile, the UK has significantly ramped up its supply of key antiviral Covid-19 drugs – securing a further 4.25m courses of courses of molnupiravir and the Pfizer-made Paxlovid, which are both taken as pills.
The treatments will be available from early next year and are both expected to be effective against Omicron.
It is a hefty build-up of the government’s initial orders of 480,000 courses of molnupiravir, which trials suggest can reduce hospital admissions by 30 per cent, and 250,000 courses of Paxlovid which can potentially cut the risk of vulnerable patients being admitted to hospital by about 88 per cent when it is taken within five days of symptoms appearing
Health secretary Sajid Javid said: “Our COVID-19 booster programme continues at unparalleled pace and it’s vital we further bolster our national response to the virus by ensuring access to the world’s best treatments too. This is a mammoth deal for the UK government and for patients across the country that are set to benefit from these antivirals over the coming months.”