- The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine works against the contagious coronavirus variant first found in the UK, an early study shows.
- Researchers studied lab-made versions of both the original coronavirus and the variant, which has spread around the world.
- Whilst the results are reassuring, they have not yet been peer-reviewed.
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The COVID-19 shot co-developed by Pfizer and BioNTech works against the contagious coronavirus variant first found in the UK,a new study from the companies has shown.
Antibodies that stop the virus from entering cells worked just as well against the variant, which experts believe is between 30% and 50% more infectious, as against the original strain under lab conditions, the authors reported.
Pfizer’s vaccine was 95% effective at protecting against COVID-19 in trials. But it was designed for the original virus, rather than variants with mutations that are spreading around the world.
So far, 122 cases of the B.1.1.7 variant have been identified in the US, according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.
In the new study, researchers took blood samples from 16 people three weeks after they had received the second dose of Pfizer’s shot, and tested them against lab-made versions of both the original virus and the variant.
The study is preliminary, and has not yet been scrutinised in a peer-review.
While the results of the study were reassuring, and suggest vaccinated people are protected against the variant, it remained “prudent” to prepare to potentially change a vaccine for a new coronavirus strain, the study’s authors said.
Experts had already predicted that the current vaccines available from Pfizer, Moderna, and AstraZeneca would work against the variant.
Pfizer said January 8 that its vaccine should work against variants that contain certain mutations. It had tested its shot on a lab-made variant that had a mutation found on both B.1.1.7 and the variant detected in South Africa. This lab-made variant, however, was not exactly the same as either real-life variants.
BioNTech has also said that it could produce a new vaccine for a COVID-19 variant in about six weeks. The decision to sign off a modified vaccine, however, would ultimately be up to regulators, who could request further trials.
The variant causing the most concern is the one first found in South Africa, 501.Y.V2, because studies suggest that it can escape some antibodies in the lab. Researchers don’t yet know how, or if, this will affect how well vaccines work in people.
Professor Penny Moore, researcher at South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases, said during a webinar Monday that there was compelling data that the mutations in 501.Y.V2 are “problematic”.
Moore had run lab studies, for example, where antibodies in half the sample did not protect against the 501.Y.V2 variant at all. She added that real-life data was needed to draw any conclusions.