A new study shows that Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine can protect against a mutation found in two easier-to-spread variants of the coronavirus that broke out in Britain and South Africa.
These options are of global concern. They carry many mutations, but share a common one that is thought to be the reason they are more contagious. Called N501Y, it is a slight change in one place of the protein that covers the virus.
Most of the vaccines that are distributed around the world train the body to recognize this protein jump and fight it. Pfizer teamed up with researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston for laboratory tests to see if the mutation affected the vaccine̵
They used blood samples from 20 people who received the vaccine, made by Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech, during a large study of the photos. According to the study, antibodies from these vaccine recipients successfully repel the virus in laboratory dishes. posted late Thursday on an online site for researchers.
The study is preliminary and has not yet been reviewed by experts, a key step for medical research.
But “it was very reassuring to find that at least this mutation, which is one of the ones that people are most concerned about, doesn’t seem to be a problem” for the vaccine, said Pfizer’s chief scientific officer Dr. Philip Dormitzer.
A similar Moderna vaccine is being distributed in the United States and Europe, and was cleared in the UK on Friday. Moderna is doing similar tests to see if its shot also works against variants, as do manufacturers of other types of COVID-19 vaccines.
But Dr. Anthony Fauci, the best infectious disease expert in the United States, recently told The Associated Press that vaccines are designed to recognize multiple parts of a spike protein, making a single mutation unlikely to be enough to block them. However, testing is necessary to be sure.
Viruses are constantly undergoing minor changes as they spread from person to person. Scientists have used these minor modifications to track how the coronavirus has moved around the world since it was first discovered in China about a year ago.
British scientists say the variant found in the United Kingdom – which has become the dominant type in some parts of England – still appears to be susceptible to vaccines. This mutant is now found in the United States and many other countries.
But the variant, first discovered in South Africa, has an additional mutation that has scientists on the brink, one called E484K.
The Pfizer study found that the vaccine appeared to work against 15 additional possible viral mutations, but E484K was not among those tested. Dormitzer said he was next on the list.
If, in the end, the virus mutates enough that the vaccine needs to be corrected – similar to how flu vaccines are adjusted most years – – changing the prescription will not be difficult to shoot his company and the like. Both Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are produced with part of the genetic code of the virus that is easy to switch, although it is not clear what kind of additional testing regulators will be needed to make such a change.
Dormitzer said this was just the beginning of “ongoing monitoring of viral changes to see if any of them could affect vaccine coverage.”
The Associated Press’s Department of Health and Science receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.