Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine is still effective against key mutations found in variants of the coronavirus in the UK and South Africa, according to preliminary research.
The mutation, called N501Y, is a slight change in the spike protein that the virus uses to enter cells. These mutations are thought to make the virus more contagious, infectious disease experts say.
One study estimated the mutation made the virus 56% more infectious, but did not appear to cause any more severe disease, according to available data.
New research come aThe coronavirus variant is raising alarms around the world and vaccine rollouts remain in their infancy.
Pfizer, in collaboration with researchers from the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, analyzed blood samples from 20 vaccine recipients. Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine-induced antibodies were successful in defending against 15 possible viral mutations in laboratory dishes.
The variant first discovered in South Africa carries an additional mutation, E484K. The mutations were not among those tested, but Pfizer’s chief scientist, Dr. Philip Dormitzer, says Associated Press that researchers will test it next.
Findings have not been peer reviewed, but are available on the preprint server bioRxiv. Moderna is also conducting similar testing for its COVID-19 vaccine.
Viruses naturally mutate as they spread from person to person. Most of the changes are minor, but the variant responsible for the UK lockdown has public health officials worried.
Vaccines are designed to recognize the multiple parts of the spike protein covering the virus, so a single mutation is usually not enough to affect vaccine coverage, although testing is always needed to confirm this.
If the virus changes significantly which affects its behavior, the vaccine will need to be adapted to offer optimal protection. This is why people need new flu shots every year.
British researchers say the variant, which was first identified in Britain, still appears to be susceptible to the vaccine. The latest data from Pfizer offers more assurance when variants are also found in the US, including Pennsylvania.
A Pennsylvania residents tested for the UK variant last week after known international exposure. The person experiences mild symptoms that subside on isolation.
Dormitzer said that continuous monitoring of coronavirus mutations will be needed to determine whether these mutations weaken the effectiveness of the vaccine.