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The Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine “is effective” against the new mutant Covid variants, a major study has found.
The vaccine appeared to work against a key mutation in the highly transmissible new variants of the coronavirus discovered in the UK and South Africa, according to a laboratory study conducted by the US drugmaker.
The encouraging news will be a relief to many in Britain with soaring cases and deaths from Covid fuelled by the highly infectious new variant.
Scientists had cast doubt over whether vaccines would protect against new variants, particularly the one rife in South Africa.
The not-yet peer reviewed study by Pfizer and scientists from the University of Texas Medical Branch indicated the vaccine was effective in neutralising virus with the so-called N501Y mutation of the spike protein.
The mutation could be responsible for greater transmissibility and there had been concern it could also make the virus escape antibody neutralisation elicited by the vaccine, said Phil Dormitzer, one of Pfizer’s top viral vaccine scientists.
The study was conducted on blood taken from people who had been given the vaccine.
Its findings are limited, because it does not look at the full set of mutations found in either of the new variants of the rapidly spreading virus.
Dormitzer said it was encouraging that the vaccine appears effective against the mutation, as well as 15 other mutations the company has previously tested against.
“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.”
Dormitzer noted another mutation found in the South African variant, called the E484K mutation, is also concerning.
The 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.
Scientists have expressed concern that vaccines being rolled out may not be able to protect against the new variants, particularly the one that emerged in South Africa.
Simon Clarke, an associate professor in cellular microbiology at the University of Reading, said this week that while both variants had some new features in common, the one found in South Africa “has a number additional mutations” that included more extensive alterations to the spike protein.
The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine and the one from Moderna Inc, 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 Boris Johnson to vaccinate the country’s most vulnerable.
Speaking at a Downing Street press conference on Thursday, he 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.
He added that the “bulk” of the vaccinations would be carried out at GP surgeries and pharmacies, but that the number of hospital hubs and large-scale vaccination centres were also being increased.
Earlier this week it was reported millions more jabs would be reaching vaccination centres in days, including two million Pfizer jabs originally held back for second doses.
The under pressure Prime Minister has assured the nation that every aspect of the programme – from the Government’s side – is “working flat out”, with a quarter of over-80s having already had a jab.
But industry watchdogs are questioning why the process is proving much slower than first predicted, with fingers being pointed at No10 and the pharmaceutical suppliers.
More than four million doses of the Pfizer-Biotech vaccine have been delivered and passed checks by the MHRA, according to The Times.
Last week, the Government switched up its vaccine strategy with the gap between doses shifted from three weeks to three months in an effort to see more people receive their first jab quicker.
With the PM having placed England in a third national lockdown and with the mutated strain spreading quickly, time is of the essence to get the nation inoculated and re-opened.
- Pfizer study suggests vaccine works against virus variant [https://www.thestar.com/news/world/2021/01/08/pfizer-study-suggests-vaccine-works-against-virus-variant.html]
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