LONDON — Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, the U.K.'s deputy chief medical officer, played down the chances of a coronavirus variant from South Africa becoming widespread across the country in the coming months.
His comments, delivered at a news conference Monday evening, follow concerns that the AstraZeneca-University of Oxford jab shows limited effectiveness against that particular strain, known formally as the B.1.351 mutation.
"There is no reason to think the South African variant will catch up or overtake our current virus in the next few months," Van-Tam said referring to the U.K.'s mutation which was first found in southeast England.
He said the "immediate threat" would be from the variant found in the U.K., which vaccines have shown to have more effectiveness against.
South Africa said Sunday it would suspend the use of the shot in its vaccination program after a study, which has not yet peer-reviewed, found that the AstraZeneca vaccine offered "minimal protection" against mild to moderate disease caused by the mutation found in South Africa. Drugmaker AstraZeneca is now racing to adapt its Covid-19 vaccine in the face of the new variants.
Researchers from the University of Witwatersrand and others in South Africa, and the University of Oxford, noted that the study was small, involving only around 2,000 volunteers who had an average age of 31.
Oxford University said "protection against moderate-severe disease, hospitalization or death could not be assessed in this study as the target population were at such low risk."
Van-Tam later added Monday that early modeling data does not suggest a "transmissibility advantage" for the strain found in South Africa. He said there were small numbers of cases in the U.K. at this time, reportedly 147 infections.
"I don't think this is something we should be concerned about right at this point in time," he said.
— CNBC's Holly Ellyatt contributed to this article.