An Oxford source told The Telegraph that the vaccine scientists were working on estimating how quickly they could reconfigure their ChAdOx vaccine creation platform.
“The team do not currently think they will need to, but it would be stupid not to be prepared,” the source said. “It should take a day or two to tweak the system.”
The new study, conducted by the National Institute for Communicable Diseases in Johannesburg, showed the new South African variant could evade three classes of “therapeutically relevant monoclonal antibodies”.
Professor James Naismith, an expert in structural biology at Oxford, said the findings were “not good news”, but cautioned that the “real world” human immune response prompted by the current vaccines could prove more effective.
A spokesman for the University of Oxford said: “It is known that viruses constantly change through mutation, leading to the emergence of new variants, and we should expect many new variants to be identified during 2021. These changes are being monitored closely by scientists, and it’s important we continue to remain vigilant for changes in the future.
“The University of Oxford is carefully assessing the impact of new variants on vaccine immunity and evaluating the processes needed for rapid development of adjusted Covid-19 vaccines if these should be necessary.”
On Wednesday, a separate study found that the Pfizer vaccine appeared to protect against the B.1.1.7 variant that first took hold in Kent and is wreaking havoc across the UK.
It also emerged that, despite the uptick in vaccinations, GP vaccination hubs in some areas are operating just one day a week because of poor supply. Doctors have complained that they are getting through a week’s supply of the jabs in only a few hours.