Beta variant in UK can escape vaccination and is quite good doing so, JCVI chair warns

Beta variant 'good' at escaping vaccine immunity says expert

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Professor Andrew Pollard told Radio 4’s Today programme he expects the coronavirus Beta variant, which was the cause of enforcing quarantines on French travelers, can escape vaccination and warned it was “quite good” at doing so. Professor Pollard explained studies in South Africa showed vaccines like AstraZeneca had “low effectiveness” against mild infections but supported the vaccine was still good at preventing hospitalisations and deaths. He added it is likely to see Beta and Delta variants escape vaccination and still spread but the impact it has on vaccinated individuals will be much less severe.

Speaking on Radio 4, Professor Pollard was asked his opinions on the effectiveness of the AstraZeneca vaccine against Delta and Beta variants which are dominating in other countries. 

He told the show: “Well, of course, the Beta variant is also in the UK.

“And just as with the Delta variant it’s able to escape vaccine immunity to some extent, it’s actually quite good at escaping the vaccine immunity.

“So we would expect it to be able to spread in vaccinated populations and we know that people who’ve had vaccines like the Pfizer vaccine and AstraZeneca vaccine can become infected with the Beta variant.”

Professor Pollard was then asked if there was a problem with the AstraZeneca vaccine and was asked his verdict on studies which suggest the AZ jab effectiveness can be as low as 10 percent to tackle moderate illnesses. 

He added: “Yes, so we had a study in South Africa where we just looked at milder disease and just as with the Delta variant there were infections which had very low effectiveness against mild infection.

“The problem is that we have very little data for any of the vaccines that we use in the UK for severe disease and death.

“But there is one really important study which was conducted in South Africa by Johnson and Johnson and that showed with a single dose of that vaccine there was 100 percent protection against hospitalisation and death.

“Now, the Pfizer vaccine and the AstraZeneca vaccine give us two doses and the AstraZeneca vaccine is very similar to the Johnson and Johnson one.

“We would expect from the biology here to have very high protection against hospitalisation and death and I’m absolutely confident that that will be the case.”

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