Vaccine 'offers limited protection against mild cases of new strain'
But the British company said early data from the study, due to be published on Monday, has shown the jab can protect against severe disease caused by the mutation.
Public Health England North West said on Friday that 40 cases of the E484K mutation have been found in Merseyside, Warrington, Preston and West Lancashire.
The new study, reported by the Financial Times, into the South African mutation involved some 2,000 people, most of whom were young and healthy.
“We do believe our vaccine could protect against severe disease, as neutralising antibody activity is equivalent to that of other Covid-19 vaccines that have demonstrated activity against more severe disease, particularly when the dosing interval is optimised to eight to 12 weeks,” a spokesman reportedly said.
Professor Robin Shattock, who is leading Covid-19 vaccine research at Imperial College London, told BBC Breakfast today: “It’s a very small study with just over 2,000 people and it’s not published so we can only judge it from the press release and press coverage.
"But it is concerning to some extent that we’re seeing that it’s not effective against mild or moderate disease.”
Andrew Pollard, professor of paediatric infection and immunity, and chief investigator on the Oxford vaccine trial, said: “Data from our trials of the ChAdOx1 vaccine in the United Kingdom indicate that the vaccine not only protects against the original pandemic virus, but also protects against the novel variant, B117, which caused the surge in disease from the end of 2020 across the UK.”
Also on Friday, public health officials said the outcomes of targeted tests to track the South African variant in England could take up to two weeks.
Door-to-door testing as part of urgent efforts to swab 80,000 people came after 11 cases of the variant were identified in the previous few days in people who had no links to travel – suggesting it may be spreading in communities.