UK officials: Vaccines effective against Indian variant


LONDON — British health officials expressed optimism Sunday that the coronavirus restrictions remaining in England can be lifted in June after an official study found that the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines offer effective protection against the variant first identified in India.

Jenny Harries, chief executive of the U.K. Health Security Agency, said officials in England are on track to proceed with the final stage of unlocking the country from June 21 if the public remains cautious.

“It’s looking good if people are continuing to observe all of the safety signals,” she told the BBC. However, she warned that the Indian variant is starting to become the dominant strain in parts of northwestern England, and people there need to be vigilant.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock also said he was “increasingly confident” the country can follow its unlocking plans.

A study by Public Health England found that the Pfizer vaccine is 88% effective against the variant after two doses. The AstraZeneca jab was 60% effective after both doses.

The study, which took place between Apr. 5 and May 16, found that the jab was almost as effective against symptomatic disease from the Indian strain as it is against the dominant Kent variant.

Both vaccines were only 33% effective against symptomatic disease from the Indian variant three weeks after the first dose — compared with about 50% against the Kent strain.

Authorities in Britain have expressed concern in recent weeks that increasing cases of the Indian variant could jeopardize the U.K.’s so-far-successful plan to reopen its economy. More than 2,880 cases of the Indian variant have been recorded in England, figures show.

The government has said the variant appears to be more transmissible, but there was still uncertainty about how concerning this was.

More than 37.7 million people, or 72% of the adult population, have had their first vaccine dose in the U.K. About 42% have had their second dose.

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