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British Prime Minister Boris Johnson holds a bottle of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine as he visits a COVID-19 vaccination centre in Batley, West Yorkshire, England, on Monday. Photo:Jon Super - WPA Pool/Getty Images

The United Kingdom on Thursday launched a new clinical study to test the effects of mixing COVID-19 vaccines.

Why it matters: Per a statement from Oxford University virologist Matthew Snape, chief investigator of the world-first study: "If we do show that these vaccines can be used interchangeably in the same schedule this will greatly increase the flexibility of vaccine delivery."

  • He added it "could provide clues as to how to increase the breadth of protection against new virus strains."

How it works: More than 800 volunteers over 50 years old will be given the Oxford University-AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine followed by a dose of Pfizer-BioNTech's, or vice-versa, according to the U.K. government statement.

  • There will be a four- or 12-week break between doses.

What to watch: The study will run for 13 months, but initial findings are expected to be released in the summer.

What they're saying: "It is also even possible that by combining vaccines, the immune response could be enhanced giving even higher antibody levels that last longer," said deputy chief medical officer Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, the senior responsible officer for the study.

  • "Unless this is evaluated in a clinical trial we just won't know."

Of note: The FDA said last month it's following discussions, such as "mixing and matching vaccines in order to immunize more people against COVID-19."

  • But "without appropriate data supporting such changes in vaccine administration, we run a significant risk of placing public health at risk, undermining the historic vaccination efforts to protect the population from COVID-19."

Go deeper

Updated 6 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Bryan Walsh, author of Future
Feb 4, 2021 - Health

Moderna CEO says company needs to adapt with coronavirus variants

Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel. Photo: Adam Glanzman/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Moderna's CEO Stéphane Bancel tells Axios the company's coronavirus vaccine made it to market in near-record time thanks in part to a unique digital foundation.

The big picture: Moderna is far smaller than many of its pharma competitors, but it made one of the first authorized COVID-19 vaccines. But the company still needs to adapt to a mutating virus — and come up with its next blockbuster product.

Feb 3, 2021 - Health

Biden admin to open first mass COVID vaccination sites in California

A "super site" COVID-19 vaccination event by the San Bernardino County health department on Feb. 2 in Fontana, California. Photo: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

The first federally organized mass coronavirus vaccination sites are expected to open in Oakland and Los Angeles, California, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Wednesday.

Why it matters: Although cases and hospitalizations are dropping in the state, coronavirus deaths remain steady. The state has reported over 3.3 million COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic — the most of any state in the U.S., per Johns Hopkins data.