Nadhim Zahawi said the UK is storing a “library” of coronavirus mutations.

Nadim Zahawa

There are currently about 4,000 variants of coronavirus around the world, the UK’s vaccines tsar has warned.

Nadhim Zahawi told Sky News there was a “library” of coronavirus mutations being stored to ensure the UK was ready to respond with updated vaccines.

“All manufacturers – Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, Oxford/AstraZeneca and others – are looking at how they can improve their vaccine to make sure we are ready for any variant,” said Mr. Zahawai.

“There are about 4,000 variants around the world of Covid now.

“We have the largest genome sequencing industry – we have about 50 percent of the world’s genome sequencing industry – and we are keeping a library of all the variants so that we are ready to be able to respond, whether in the autumn or beyond, to any challenge the virus may present, and produce the next vaccine so we can always protect the United Kingdom and of course the rest of the world as well.”

It comes after scientists revealed a mutation similar to that in the South African variant has been discovered in the Kent strain of the virus.

Several laboratory studies have found that vaccines and antibody therapy are likely to be at least slightly less effective against the South African variant.
But the vaccines gene tally offer very good protection against severe illness and hospitalisation due to Covid-19.

The Government is backing a trial which aims to establish whether doses of the Oxford University/AstraZeneca and Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines can be mixed.

Mr. Zahawi said the trial will not impact the current rollout of vaccines in the UK.

“If you have currently had the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, you will get your Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine as your second dose, your booster dose,” said the vaccines minister.

“And of course if you have the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, you’ll get the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine.

“This is more longer-term, keeping us ahead of – at least in a leadership position, I should say – in the world, in helping the whole world because no one is safe until we are all safe.

“If we understand more about how we can use vaccines together then we should be in a much stronger position in terms of vaccinating the United Kingdom, but also the rest of the world.”

The Straford-on-Avon MP also explained how infection transmission studies among vaccinated care home residents and frontline health care workers would provide more information.