The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine appears to be effective against the new, more infectious SARS-CoV-2 virus variant that was first detected in the United Kingdom and has since been found in dozens of countries, according to two preliminary studies released on Jan 20 (2021).
The strain, known as B.1.1.7, has caused alarm among experts because of its increased ability to spread and supercharge virus outbreaks.
It is one of several worrying new variants – each with a cluster of genetic mutations – that have emerged in recent weeks.
Researchers on Jan 20 (2021) said that their early findings, which have yet to be peer reviewed, suggested that the variant would not be able to evade the protective effect of current vaccines.
“Our results suggest that the majority of vaccine responses should be effective against the B.1.1.7 variant,” concluded researchers from the UK and the Netherlands in one of the studies.
The authors tested the new variant in the laboratory with antibody-rich blood plasma from 36 patients who had recovered from either mild or severe forms of Covid-19.
Most were able to neutralise the variant, although the study found reduced potency in three samples.
“Our findings stress the importance of continuous monitoring of variants and in vitro assessment of their impact on neutralisation,” they said.
A separate preliminary study by researchers from BioNTech and Pfizer also found their vaccine to be effective against the B.1.1.7 variant.
They compared the neutralising effect of plasma from 16 participants in their vaccine clinical trials against the British variant and the original virus that emerged in Wuhan, China, in late 2019.
They found an “equivalent” neutralisation capacity to both variants, concluding it was “unlikely” the B.1.1.7 variant could escape the immune protection of the vaccine.
The authors added that it would be “prudent” to prepare for the possibility that virus strains will develop beyond the reach of the current vaccine.
But they added that the flexibility of the technology of the messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccine would allow it to be adapted to new strains relatively quickly.
In previous preliminary research from Pfizer/BioNTech released earlier this month, scientists found the vaccine was effective against a mutation, N501Y, common to virus variants found in the UK, South Africa and Brazil. (Editor's note: Later research has found the opposite - see Related Stories below)
This mutation involves a change in the virus’ spike protein, which enables it to latch onto human cells, and therefore, plays a key role in infection.
But it is yet another mutation, known as E484K and present in variants detected in South Africa and Brazil, but not the one from the UK, that has experts particularly worried about immunity “escape”. – AFP Relaxnews