Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine effective against new strain, fresh study shows
The Covid-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech is capable of neutralising the strain of the novel coronavirus detected in the UK, a new study confirmed.
However, a separate study conducted in South Africa appeared to show there might be some re-infection threat from the strain detected in that country, known as 501Y.V2.
Significantly, the first of those studies tested the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine against a lab-created version of the virus now most prevalent in the UK containing all of the new key genetic mutations.
Prior work conducted by the University of Texas Medical Branch had reached a similar conclusion, but had only analysed the vaccine's efficacy against what was considered the crucial mutation, known as N501Y, in the two new strains, which affected the virus's spike protein.
According to the BioNTech chief executive officer, Ugur Sahin, the results "makes it very unlikely that the UK variant viruses will escape".
Yet research conducted by South Africa's Institute for Communicable Diseases, albeit using blood samples from just a handful of patients who had recovered from the novel coronavirus, showed that half of them did not have enough antibodies to protect against the new strain found in their country.
Hence, those patients may not have protection from re-infection any longer while for the remainder antibody levels were lower and the risk of re-infection undetermined.
Luckily it seems, both AstraZeneca and Johnson&Johnson have been carrying out late-stage clinical trials of their Covid-19 vaccines in South Africa.
According to Glenda Grey, the head of the South African Medical Research Council and lead on J&J's vaccine trial team, the US giant's trial - which involves 45,000 people - included volunteers who were dosed during the new strain's outbreak.
"This new variant should not delay vaccine access, but it also means we need to keep our eye on breakthrough infections," CBS News reported Grey as saying on 4 January.
Results from the J&J trial were expected towards the end of January.
Nonetheless, BioNTech is confident that it can rejig its vaccine in roughly six weeks if necessary for it to be able protect against new strains.
Furthermore, the results of a study conducted by researchers at Rockefeller University and published overnight on biorxiv.org appeared to show that the mRNA vaccines developed by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna remained effective against the key new mutations present in the Brazilian, Japanese, UK, and South African strains of Covid-19, known as E484K and N501Y, as well as for the combination K417N:E484K:N501Y.
However, the study concluded that monoclonal antibody therapies now in use should be tested against the new variants and that mRNA vaccines may need to be updated "periodically to avoid potential loss of clinical efficacy".
Commenting on the results of the study, E.John Wherry, an immunology expert at the University of Pennsylvania, reportedly told the Associated Press: "“We don't want people thinking that the current vaccine is already outdated. That's absolutely not true.
"There’s still immunity here [...] a good level of protection,” but the mutations “do in fact reduce how well our immune response is recognizing the virus."