Pfizer-BioNTech Explores New Covid Variant, J&J Tests Vaccine Against It

Vial of Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine.

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Pfizer and BioNTech are studying a new, highly mutated variant of the virus that causes Covid-19, the companies said Friday morning.

“We understand the concerns of the experts and immediately launched an investigation on option B.1.1.529,” the company said.

Pfizer and BioNTech said they expect more lab test data no later than two weeks.

“This data will provide more information on whether B.1.1.529 could be a side-effect option that may require adjustments to our vaccine if the option spreads globally,” the companies said.

Pfizer and BioNTech said they could adapt their mRNA vaccine within six weeks and begin shipments within 100 days if an escape scenario is identified.

Johnson & Johnson said Friday that it is already testing a vaccine against a new variant.

“We are closely monitoring the newly emerging strains of the COVID-19 virus with variations of the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein and are already testing the efficacy of our vaccine against a new and rapidly spreading variant first discovered in southern Africa,” said J&J.

The variant, which originated in South Africa, has about 50 mutations, more than 30 of which are related to the spike protein, which allows the virus to bind to human cells. The spread of the new variant is still in its infancy, and it is not yet clear how serious the infection will be for the vaccinated person.

Several European and Asian countries have suspended flights from southern Africa in response to this option. On Thursday, the UK suspended flights from six countries in the region, and the European Commission – the executive arm of the European Union – ordered all 27 member countries to stop flying from southern Africa.

White House chief medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci said on Friday that the US is working with South African scientists to obtain the molecular makeup of this variant so that laboratory tests can be carried out. These tests will help determine if a variant can avoid the antibody protection afforded by vaccines.

Fauci said the data will help determine if the US should impose similar travel restrictions.

The effectiveness of the Pfizer-BioNTech 2-dose vaccine against infection has declined over time, although it is still very effective in preventing hospitalization and death. A study published in the journal Science this month found that the vaccine’s effectiveness dropped from 86% to 43% between February and October.

Last Friday, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention authorized the revaccination of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for all adults. The booster dose was 95% effective in preventing symptomatic infection in people with no evidence of prior infection in a clinical trial of 10,000 participants aged 16 and over.

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