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Oxford vaccine breakthrough 'one step closer to holy grail' and could mean COVID restrictions lifted sooner

Andy Wells
·Freelance Writer
·4-min read

Watch: Oxford vaccine reduces transmission of COVID, study suggests

COVID restrictions could be lifted earlier than anticipated, after preliminary results from a study appeared to show the Oxford vaccine cutting transmission rates by 67%.

The results from the study – which has not yet been peer reviewed – have been described as the “holy grail” of the global vaccine rollout, while health secretary Matt Hancock said the news was “absolutely superb”.

The preliminary results of a study conducted by researchers at the University of Oxford found the efficacy from two standard doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine administered three months apart to be 82.4%.

But it is the fact it also seems to dramatically cut transmission after just one dose that could mean lockdown measures can be lifted sooner, a former chair at the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Medicine said.

An illustrative image of a hand holding a medical syringe in front of the University of Oxford AstraZeneca logos displayed on a screen. On Monday, February 1, 2021, in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
The Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine appears to cut COVID transmission rates, according to new research. (Getty)

Dr Gillies O’Bryan-Tear said: “If these vaccines reduce transmission to the extent reported, it will mean that the easing of social restrictions will be enabled sooner than if we have to wait for herd immunity – which may never in fact be achieved because of insufficient vaccine population coverage.”

Boris Johnson has ruled out any relaxation of current lockdown restrictions until 8 March at the earliest.

‘It is such good news’

Speaking this morning, the health secretary agreed that the results of the study will “help us all to get out of this pandemic”.

Hancock told BBC Breakfast: “The new information that we’ve got is that [the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine] also reduces transmission.

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“I’ve said many times… that one of the things we don’t know is the impact of the vaccines on reducing transmissions.

“We know from the earlier trials that the vaccines are safe and effective at protecting the individual.

“We now know that the Oxford vaccine also reduces transmission and that will help us all to get out of this pandemic, frankly, which is why it is such good news that we should welcome.”

Britain's Health Secretary Matt Hancock attends a virtual press conference on the Covid-19 pandemic, inside 10 Downing Street in central London on February 1, 2021. - Health officials said Monday they will increase testing in eight areas across England where nearly a dozen South African Covid-19 variant cases have been identified in the last week. The 11 cases, detected in genomic sequencing carried out on random samples of positive coronavirus results, cannot be traced back to international travel, prompting concerns of localised transmission. (Photo by Chris J Ratcliffe / POOL / AFP) (Photo by CHRIS J RATCLIFFE/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
Health secretary Matt Hancock welcomed the news of the study, which is yet to be published. (Getty)

Caution

Despite the optimistic mood music coming from the health secretary, O’Bryan-Tear warned that, as yet, there is little data to show how the researchers calculated the 67% reduction in transmission in vaccinated participants compared with unvaccinated participants.

O’Bryan-Tear said: “Few data were provided on how this figure was calculated, for example, how many samples it represented.

Read more: What you can and can't do under current lockdown rules

“We await fuller data and the publication, which will appear in the Lancet shortly.”

Dr Andrew Pollard, chief investigator of the trial, said the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab could have a “huge impact” on transmission – but cautioned that the data from the trial was drawn before new variants emerged.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “This virus is absolutely trying to find ways of continuing to transmit.”

Dr Doug Brown, chief executive of the British Society for Immunology, said that while the study was “welcome news”, more data was needed and the longest-lasting protection from getting ill from COVID “will only be provided by getting two doses of the vaccine”.

People queue in bad weather to enter a COVID-19 vaccination centre in Folkestone, Kent, during England's third national lockdown to curb the spread of coronavirus. Picture date: Friday January 29, 2021. (Photo by Gareth Fuller/PA Images via Getty Images)
People queue to enter a COVID-19 vaccination centre in Folkestone, Kent. (Getty)

Paul Hunter, a professor in medicine at the Norwich School of Medicine, warned that the new results showed the Oxford vaccine is “quite poor at preventing asymptomatic infection” but said it “will still go a long way to reduce the R value and transmission because there will be far fewer symptomatic infections… that are rather more infectious than those who are asymptomatic”.

Figures released on Tuesday showed that the number of COVID vaccine jabs given in the UK has passed 10 million.

A total of 9,646,715 were first doses, while 496,796 were second doses.

Watch: What you can and can't do during England's third national lockdown