LONDON, May 22 (Reuters) – A double dose of COVID-19
vaccines is almost as effective against the fast-spreading
variant of the coronavirus first identified in India as it is
against Britain’s dominant strain, English health officials said
Britain’s health minister said the data was groundbreaking
and he was increasingly hopeful that the government would be
able to lift more COVID restrictions next month.
That compared with 93% effectiveness against the B.1.1.7
“Kent” strain which is Britain’s dominant COVID variant.
Two doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine were 60% effective
against symptomatic disease from the Indian variant compared
with 66% effectiveness against the Kent variant, PHE said.
“I’m increasingly confident that we’re on track for the
roadmap, because this data shows that the vaccine, after two
doses, works just as effectively (against the Indian variant),”
Health Secretary Matt Hancock told broadcasters.
Under the government’s plans, a lifting of remaining
coronavirus restrictions is due to take place from June 21.
Britain has rushed out Europe’s fastest vaccination
programme so far but it has faced a new challenge from the
spread of the variant first found in India.
Data published on Saturday showed new COVID cases reported
in Britain rose by 10.5% in the seven days to May 22 although it
remained a fraction of levels seen earlier this year.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson this month ordered an
acceleration of remaining second doses to the over 50s and
people who are clinically vulnerable.
PHE said a first dose of both vaccines was 33% effective
against symptomatic disease from B.1.617.2 after three weeks,
lower than its 50% effectiveness against B.1.1.7.
Hancock said that showed that getting both doses of the
vaccine was “absolutely vital.”
Concern about rising cases in Britain of the variant first
found in India prompted Germany to say on Friday that anyone
entering the country from the United Kingdom would have to
quarantine for two weeks on arrival.
Also on Friday, the head of Germany’s public health
institute said existing COVID-19 vaccines might be less
effective against the B.1.617.2 variant.
(Writing by William Schomberg; Editing by Christina Fincher)