An Army health worker prepares a dose of Covishield, AstraZeneca / Oxford’s Covid-19 coronavirus vaccine from the Indian Serum Institute, at an Army hospital in Colombo on Jan. 29, 2021.

Sign S. Kodikara | AFP | Getty Images

LONDON – Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, the UK’s assistant chief medical officer, has downplayed the chances of a variant of coronavirus from South Africa spreading across the country in the coming months.

His comments, made at a press conference Monday evening, follow concerns that the AstraZeneca University Oxford push shows limited efficacy against this particular strain, formally known as the B.1.351 mutation.

“There is no reason to believe that the South African variant will catch up with or overtake our current virus in the next few months,” said Van-Tam, referring to the UK’s mutation first found in south-east England.

He said the “immediate threat” would come from the variant found in the UK, against which vaccines have been shown to be more effective.

South Africa said Sunday it would stop using the shot in its vaccination program after a study, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, found the AstraZeneca vaccine offered “minimal protection” against mild to moderate diseases caused by the Mutation found in the south are caused by Africa. The drug manufacturer AstraZeneca is now trying to adapt its Covid-19 vaccine in view of the new variants.

Researchers from the University of Witwatersrand and others in South Africa, as well as the University of Oxford, found that the study was small and only included about 2,000 volunteers, with a mean age of 31 years.

Oxford University said “protection from moderate illness, hospitalization or death could not be assessed in this study because the target group was exposed to such a low risk.”

Van-Tam later added Monday that early modeling data does not suggest a “portability benefit” for the strain found in South Africa. He said there were few cases in the UK at the time, with 147 infections reportedly reported.

“I don’t think we should be concerned at this point,” he said.

– CNBC’s Holly Ellyatt contributed to this article.