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Researchers experiment with mixing Covid-19 vaccines

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Race to improve vaccines to ensure 'we are ready for any variant'

LONDON: The world faces around 4,000 variants of the virus that causes Covid-19, prompting a race to improve vaccines, Britain said yesterday, as researchers began to explore mixing doses of the Pfizer and AstraZeneca shots.

Thousands of variants have been documented as the virus mutates, including the so-called British, South African and Brazilian variants that appear to spread more swiftly.

British Vaccine Deployment Minister Nadhim Zahawi said it was very unlikely that the current vaccines would not work against the new variants.

"Its very unlikely that the current vaccine won't be effective on the variants whether in Kent or other variants especially when it comes to severe illness and hospitalisation," Mr Zahawi told Sky News.

"All manufacturers, Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, Oxford-AstraZeneca and others, are looking at how they can improve their vaccine to make sure that we are ready for any variant - there are about 4,000 variants around the world of Covid now."

While thousands of variants have arisen as the virus mutates on replication, only a very small minority are likely to be important and to change the virus in an appreciable way, according to the British Medical Journal.

Britain yesterday launched a trial to assess the immune responses generated if doses of the vaccines from Pfizer and AstraZeneca are combined in a two-shot schedule.

The British researchers behind the trial said data on vaccinating people with the two different types of vaccines could help understanding of whether shots can be rolled out with greater flexibility around the world.

Initial data on immune responses is expected to be generated around June.


Meanwhile, people's willingness to get vaccinated is rising around the world and more than half said they would take the shot if it were offered next week, a survey of global vaccine confidence found.

But attitudes and confidence vary widely in the 15 countries covered in the survey, with France showing high levels of scepticism and some Asian countries showing declining trust in vaccines, while some European nations see rising confidence.

Overall, vaccine confidence is higher than in November, when the same survey - conducted in 15 countries and covering 13,500 people each time - found that only 40 per cent would be willing to get vaccinated.

This most recent survey ran from Jan 4 to 24.

The survey, co-led by YouGov and Imperial College London's Institute of Global Health Innovation (IGHI), found people in Britain were the most willing at 78 per cent, followed by Denmark at 67 per cent.

France had the highest proportion who said they would not take a vaccine, at 44 per cent.

In Australia, Japan, South Korea and Singapore, willingness to take a vaccine has dropped off since November, with Japan showing the least preparedness, followed by Singapore. - REUTERS