Both the Pfizer and AstraZeneca jabs are highly effective at protecting people from the strain of the Covid-19 virus first found in India, a study by Public Health England (PHE) has found.
The analysis, carried out between 5 April and 16 May, found the Pfizer vaccine was 88% effective against symptomatic disease from the India variant two weeks after a second dose, compared with 93% effectiveness against the Kent strain. For its part, the AstraZeneca jab was 60% effective, compared with 66% against the Kent variant over the same period.
The difference in effectiveness between the two vaccines could be due to the rollout of second AstraZeneca doses taking place later than those for the Pfizer jab, PHE said on Saturday. Data suggests that it takes longer for the AstraZeneca jab to reach maximum effectiveness, so the protection it provides could increase further.
“It is now clear how important the second dose is to secure the strongest possible protection against Covid-19 and its variants,” the health secretary, Matt Hancock, said. “Everyone should book their jab when offered.”
In addition to the protection offered against symptomatic Covid-19, PHE said it expected to see even higher levels of effectiveness against hospital admissions and deaths.
“This study provides reassurance that two doses of either vaccine offer high levels of protection against symptomatic disease from the B.1.617.2 [India] variant and we expect the vaccines to be even more effective at preventing hospitalisation and death,” said Mary Ramsay, head of immunisation at PHE.
This point was backed by Dr Susan Hopkins, Covid-19 strategic response director for PHE. “We have now got early evidence that the vaccine protects [against the India variant],” she said. “That’s really good news. What we are saying now is push the second dose and get as many people vaccinated as possible.”
It was also found that both vaccines were 33% effective against symptomatic disease caused by the India variant, three weeks after the first dose. This compared with about 50% effectiveness against the Kent variant.
The analysis was carried out on people from all age groups from 5 April to cover the time when the India variant emerged and included 1,054 people confirmed as having the variant through genomic sequencing.
Hopkins added that PHE would carry out further studies on a weekly basis and would advise government on its implications for the proposed relaxation of Covid restrictions next month.
Separate analysis by PHE indicates that the vaccination programme has so far prevented 13,000 deaths from Covid-19 and around 39,100 hospital admissions in older people in England, up to 9 May.