Pfizer/BioNTech Say Vaccine Effective Against UK And South Africa COVID-19 Variants
Several new variants — each with a cluster of genetic mutations — have sparked fears over an increase in infectiousness as well as suggestions that the virus could begin to elude immune response, whether from prior infection or a vaccine.
Pfizer/BioNTech, which had previously said it was unlikely that the strain originally found in Britain could escape vaccine protection, on Thursday said early tests suggest their immunization would be similarly protective against the variant in South Africa.
In a joint statement, the two companies revealed that the “small differences” detected in tests comparing the original virus and the recent versions “are unlikely to lead to a significant reduction in the effectiveness of the vaccine”.
While the findings indicated no need for a new vaccine to tackle the new strains, Pfizer and BioNTech said they would respond if there was evidence that the variants could defeat their current vaccine.
They would continue to monitor their vaccine’s “real-world effectiveness”, including against new strains, they said.
The companies expressed;
Pfizer and BioNTech believe that the flexibility of BioNTech’s proprietary mRNA vaccine platform is well suited to develop new vaccine variants if required.
They said they are “prepared to respond” if a new strain is shown to be able to evade the immunity of the vaccine, adding that they can produce updates to their jab if needed.
The statement comes after US biotech firm Moderna this week announced that lab studies suggest its vaccine can protect against the variants first found in the United Kingdom and South Africa.
The latest Pfizer/BioNTech research, which has not yet been peer reviewed, was carried out by researchers from Pfizer and the University of Texas.
The authors compared the antibodies of 20 people who had received two doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine during clinical trials with lab-engineered sets of mutations present in the variants that emerged in Britain and South Africa.
The new variants — along with another linked to Brazil — have mutations to the virus’ spike protein, which enables the virus to latch onto human cells and therefore plays a key role in driving infections.
One mutation in particular — known as E484K and found in the South Africa and Brazil strains but not the one in Britain — has experts particularly worried about immunity “escape”.
The study found that the antibodies were able to neutralize all the sets of mutations tested.
It noted that the effect was “slightly lower” against three mutations in the variant found in South Africa, including E484K.
However, the firms said that it was “unlikely to lead to a significant reduction in the effectiveness of the vaccine”.
They said they were looking to test against the full set of mutations in the spike protein of the variant that emerged in South Africa.
Daily global deaths from COVID-19 topped 18,000 for the first time Wednesday, with vaccines seen as the only real chance of returning to some form of normality.