Qatar study shows Covid-19 vaccines effective against UK, South Africa variants

The Peninsula

Doha: A study carried out by investigators and collaborators from Qatar’s healthcare system and research institutes has found that COVID-19 vaccination in Qatar is highly effective at preventing severe illness due to infection from COVID-19 variants from the United Kingdom and South Africa. 

The research study, which has been published in the New England Journal of Medicine, the most prestigious medical journal in the world, analyzed a wide range of clinical data from February 1 to March 31, 2021 compiled in the national COVID-19 databases at Hamad Medical Corporation, including vaccination data, antibody and PCR test results, COVID-19 hospitalizations, and infection severity data. 

Professor Laith Abu-Raddad, Professor of Infectious Disease Epidemiology at Weill Cornell Medicine-Qatar of Qatar Foundation, and lead investigator in the research study, explained the significance of the findings. 

“At the start of the year, the number of new daily COVID-19 infections in Qatar began to gradually increase, a trend that continued until mid-April,” said Professor Abu-Raddad. “These rising numbers were largely driven by the introduction of new variants into the community; first the UK variant, followed by the South African variant.

While the extensive clinical trials of the Pfizer and BioNTech, and Moderna vaccines had shown that these vaccines were 95 percent effective at preventing symptomatic infection against the original strain of COVID-19, there was a lack of clinical evidence on whether these vaccines were effective against the new variants.”

He added: “The results of our study are very encouraging, showing that for fully vaccinated people – 14 days after receiving the second dose – vaccination is 89.5 percent effective at preventing infection from the UK variant and 75 percent effective at preventing infection from the South African variant.”

Hiam Chemaitelly, Senior Epidemiologist at Weill Cornell Medicine-Qatar and one of the lead investigators in the study, added: “Of most significance is that our study found vaccination to be 97.4 percent effective in preventing severe, critical, or fatal disease due to both the UK and South African variants. Vaccination provided a robust protection against both hospitalization and death due to COVID-19, regardless of the variant type.”

The research study included investigators and collaborators from the Ministry of Public Health, Hamad Medical Corporation, the Primary Health Care Corporation, Sidra Medicine, Weill Cornell Medicine-Qatar and Qatar University and its publication comes as almost 50 percent of adults have received at least one vaccine dose through Qatar’s National COVID-19 Vaccination Program. 

Dr Abdullatif Al Khal, Chair of the National Health Strategic Group on COVID-19 and Head of Infectious Diseases at Hamad Medical Corporation, and one of the study investigators, said the findings were good news that prove the effectiveness of the vaccines. “We know that the UK and South African variants are more highly transmissible and cause more severe symptoms in infected people than the original strain we experienced last year, so having vaccines that are proven to work against these variants is incredibly important. The COVID-19 pandemic is the biggest public health challenge the world has faced for several decades and has impacted nearly every country across the globe for more than a year. The global roll out of vaccines offers hope of a return towards normal life and this joint research study showing the vaccines to be highly effective at preventing severe infection will reassure people here in Qatar and around the world,” said Dr Al Khal. 

Professor Adeel Butt, Director of the Clinical Epidemiology Research Unit at Hamad Medical Corporation and senior investigator in the study, said: “Our findings show that not only do the vaccines offer high levels of protection against severe sickness, they can also significantly prevent an individual from becoming infected with COVID-19. While the vaccines may be less effective at preventing infection from the South African variant, this reduced protection from infection did not translate into reduced protection against severe symptoms and sickness. No vaccine is ever 100 percent effective but the effectiveness rates we are seeing from vaccination are very high and offer more reason to believe we can win the fight against COVID-19 and return to our normal lives.”

Qatar Safar

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