There are good signs that coronavirus will not suddenly start escaping from the vaccine, MPs have heard.
Professor Sarah Gilbert, of the University of Oxford, told the Science and Technology Committee: “Certainly what we’re seeing at the moment is a reduction in efficacy against variants rather than falling off a cliff edge.
“We have to remember that for the virus to mutate to evade the immune responses being induced by the vaccination, it may have to take a penalty.
“It may become a virus that doesn’t function quite as well as the original virus did, and that will prevent new variants which may escape the immune response by the vaccine, they may actually not spread so well.
“And what we’ve seen with the B117, the UK variant, that is still affected by the vaccine – that’s the one that can spread more effectively, but we’re not seeing that with the South Africa and Brazil variant at least so far.
“So, anything can happen – viruses are infinitely able to mutate but currently I think the signs are good that we won’t see a sudden escape from the vaccine with a virus that is very well able to circulate.”
She said that a decision on whether an autumn vaccination campaign would be needed would be made over the summer.
“I think we need to make a decision over the summer, we will start to get data from the clinical trials on the immune responses to the variant vaccine, both against the virus variant and against the original virus, and we will then be able to monitor the situation and decide what should be happening in the autumn.
“Last year we were working at risk for much of the time, making plans to be able to move as quickly as we could if it was needed, that still applies now.
“I don’t think the decision is finally made about exactly what will be done in the autumn, but we need to be prepared if there is a need for an autumn vaccination campaign and if that does need to be with a new version of the vaccine.”