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Two COVID pictures towards the Indian variant: English well being physique

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A vial of Pfizer / BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine concentrate is diluted with 1.8 ml of sodium chloride, which can be used at Guy's Hospital. Victoria Jones / Pool via REUTERS / File Photo

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LONDON (Reuters) – A double dose of COVID-19 vaccines is almost as effective against the fast-spreading variant of the coronavirus first identified in India as it is against the dominant strain of the UK, British health officials said on Saturday.

The UK Health Secretary said the data was groundbreaking and he was increasingly hoping the government could lift further COVID restrictions next month.

A study by Public Health England found that the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine was 88% effective against symptomatic disease variant B.1.617.2 two weeks after the second dose.

This compared to 93% effectiveness against the B.1.1.7 "Kent" strain, which is the UK's dominant variant of COVID.

Two doses of the AstraZeneca (NASDAQ 🙂 vaccine were 60% effective against symptomatic disease of the Indian variant, compared with 66% against the Kent variant, PHE said.

"I am increasingly confident that we are on the right track for the roadmap as this data shows that the vaccine is just as effective after two doses (against the Indian variant)," Health Secretary Matt Hancock told broadcasters.

The government plans to lift the remaining coronavirus restrictions on June 21.

Great Britain has gotten Europe's fastest vaccination program to date, but has faced a new challenge with the spread of the variant first occurring in India.

The data released on Saturday showed that new COVID cases reported in the UK rose 10.5% in the seven days to May 22, although they were only a fraction of the levels seen earlier this year.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson earlier this month ordered an acceleration of the remaining second doses to those over 50 and people who are clinically at risk.

According to the PHE, a first dose of both vaccines after three weeks was 33% effective against symptomatic diseases from B.1.617.2, less than 50% against B.1.1.7.

Hancock said this shows that it is "absolutely important" to get both doses of the vaccine.

Concern over the increasing cases of the UK variant, first found in India, led Germany to state on Friday that anyone entering the country from the UK would have to be quarantined for two weeks upon arrival.

Also on Friday, the head of the German health institute said that existing COVID-19 vaccines against variant B.1.617.2 may be less effective.

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