The BNT162b2 COVID-19 vaccine from Pfizer (NYSE:PFE) and BioNTech (NSDQ:BNTX) seems to offer protection against the new, more transmissible variant of the novel coronavirus identified in the U.K., according to a study from Pfizer and the University of Texas Medical Branch.
The study has not been currently peer-reviewed.
In additional testing, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine appeared to be effective against 15 other strains of SARS-CoV2.
The so-called “UK variant” of COVID-19, also known as the B.1.1.7 strain, has spooked the world in recent weeks, given its potential to exacerbate the pandemic. While the U.K. and South African strains may be transmitted more readily than others, researchers have not linked them to increased severity of COVID-19 infections.
Some commentators had suspected that the mutations would be unlikely to have a significant impact on COVID-19 vaccine performance.
For one thing, the mutations have not led to substantial changes in the coronavirus’s spike protein, which most COVID-19 vaccines target. The U.K. variant has 23 mutations, which is an unusual number for a coronavirus. But even if all of those mutations were related to the virus’s spike protein, it would be less than a one percent change compared to earlier strains, according to a briefing note from UBS.
But some scientists have worried that the N501Y mutation in the U.K. variant could allow it to sidestep the neutralizing antibodies COVID-19 vaccines induce, Phil Dormitzer, a Prizer viral vaccine scientist, told Reuters.
If an emerging COVID-19 variant does negatively affect the performance of an mRNA vaccine like the one from Pfizer and BioNTech, there is hope. Such a vaccine could be retooled to fight a new strain in as little as six weeks, according to BioNTech CEO Ugur Sahin.