You CAN be confident of Covid vaccines despite South Africa variant fears, says minister

BRITS can be confident that coronavirus vaccines work despite fears surrounding the South African variant, a minister has claimed.

It comes after a study revealed that the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab offers “minimal protection” against mild disease from the South African variant.

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So far in the UK over 12 million people have received a first dose of either the Pfizer/BioNTech jab or the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, with over half a million having received their second dose.

Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi said the jabs being used “seem” to work well against the dominant variants circulating in the UK.

Writing in The Telegraph he said scientists are currently working on updated versions of the jab which will be able to fight the variant more effectively.

He said: “Last week we announced an agreement with the manufacturer CureVac to allow new varieties of vaccines based on messenger RNA technology to be developed quickly and to procure 50 million doses of a new version of a vaccine, if it is required.

“But we should bear in mind that recent studies show the vaccines being deployed right now across the UK appear to work well against the Covid-19 variants currently dominant in the UK."

He said in terms of other variants not in the UK, people needed to be aware that where vaccines have reduced efficacy in preventing infections, they could still have good efficacy in preventing severe disease, hospitalisation or deaths.

Mr Zahawi added: "While it is right and necessary to prepare for the deployment of an updated vaccine, we can take confidence from the current roll out and the protection it will provide all of us against this terrible disease".

His comments come after South Africa halted its rollout of the AstraZeneca jab.

The strain, known as 501.V2 or B.1.351 is believed to account for around 90 per cent of new cases in the country.

Health minister Edward Argar today said that there are currently 147 cases of the South African variant in the UK.

The emergence of cases of the variant in the country prompted the government to deploy mass testing in several areas in order to detect infections and to stop the virus spreading further.

Mr Argar said it was a very small number of cases, but is still something we have to keep an eye on”.

Experts have however said that the South African variant could already be “quite widespread” across the UK.

Dr Mike Tildesly told BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme that the surge in testing being rolled out across places such as Merseyside and Surrey would need to be effective in order to stop the spread.

He said: "Sadly we may be in a similar situation to the Kent variant".

He added that the lockdown "could last longer" is the South African variant continues to spread.

The Kent variant spread across the whole country and was in part to blame for the third national lockdown after Tier 4 measures introduced by the government were unable to stop a rise in infections.

Mr Zahawi added that people must continue to follow the hygiene measures set out by the government as well as the lockdown measures.

He said that while scientists continue to work on vaccines and while people across the country deploy jabs – it was imperative that “we must all keep following the steps that we know make a big difference: Hands, face, space, and if you have symptoms get a test.”

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