Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine 'effective' against new COVID-19 strains

Suban Abdulla
·3 min read

Watch: Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine ‘works against rapid spread mutant strains’

The coronavirus vaccine developed by Pfizer (PFE) and BioNTech (BNTX) appears to be “effective" against the new COVID-19 strains, a study has found.

According to a laboratory study conducted by Pfizer the vaccine appeared to work against a key mutation in the highly transmissible new variants of the virus, discovered in the UK and South Africa.

The positive news from the not-yet peer reviewed study comes as UK battles with soaring coronavirus cases and deaths, fuelled by the highly infectious new mutation.

BioNTech shares rose nearly 3% in early trading on Friday:

Chart: Yahoo Finance
Chart: Yahoo Finance

A further 52,618 confirmed cases were announced by the government on Thursday, and 1,162 deaths within the last 24 hours.

Previously, scientists cast doubt over whether vaccines would protect against new strains, particularly the one rife in South Africa.

A viral vaccine scientist at the US drugmaker, Phil Dormitzer, said that the mutation could be responsible for greater transmissibility and there had been worries it could also make the virus escape antibody neutralisation elicited by the vaccine.

An illustration picture shows vials with Covid-19 Vaccine stickers attached and syringes with the logo of US pharmaceutical company Pfizer and German partner BioNTech, on November 17, 2020. (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP) (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images)
Scientists previously cast doubt over whether vaccines would protect against new strains, particularly the one rife in South Africa. Photo: Justin Tallis / AFP via Getty Images

Scientists from the University of Texas Medical Branch — who carried out the sturdy — indicated the vaccine was effective in neutralising virus with the so-called N501Y mutation of the spike protein.

But, findings of the study conducted on blood from people who had been given the vaccine, are limited as it doesn’t look at the full set of mutations found in either of the new strains of the rapidly spreading virus.

It was “encouraging that the vaccine appears effective” against the mutation, as well as 15 other mutations the company has previously tested against, Dormitzer said.

"So we've now tested 16 different mutations, and none of them have really had any significant impact. That's the good news," he said. "That doesn't mean that the 17th won't."

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He also expressed concerns about another mutation found in the South African variant, called the E484K mutation.

Researchers plan to run similar tests to see if the vaccine is effective against other mutations found in the UK and South African variants and hope to have more data within weeks.

Despite that, the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine and the Moderna (MRNA) vaccine , which use synthetic messenger RNA technology, can be quickly tweaked to address new mutations of a virus if necessary.

Scientists have suggested the changes could be made in as little as six weeks.

It comes as NHS England chief executive Sir Simon Stevens warned there were just 39 days left to meet the target set by prime minister Boris Johnson, to vaccinate the country's most vulnerable.

On Thursday, speaking at a press conference Stevens said there will be a "huge acceleration" in the vaccination programme over the coming weeks in order to reach targets.

"We need a huge acceleration if we are, over the next five weeks, going to vaccinate more people than we typically vaccinate over five months during a winter flu programme," he said.

Johnson said that so far, 1.5 million people across the UK have had their first dose already as part of an "unprecedented" effort. He said that every elderly care home resident will be offered a coronavirus jab by the end of January.