'Highly likely' that COVID-19 vaccine protects against new UK variant: BioNTech

By Rachel Arthur

- Last updated on GMT


Related tags COVID-19 vaccine Pfizer BioNTech

BioNTech's CEO says it is highly likely that the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine will be able to deal with the new variant that has emerged in the UK. And a new vaccine could be developed within six weeks if needed.

The new variant was first detected in the UK in September: but is now prompting international concern as it is believed to be up to 70% more transmissible. A number of countries have suspended travel from the UK this week as a result, while restrictions within the UK have been tightened.

"This variant is a little different: and we don't know at the moment whether our vaccine is also able to provide protection against this variant,"​ said Ugur Sahin, M.D., CEO and Co-founder of BioNTech, in a press conference this morning. 

"But scientifically, it is highly likely that the immune response from this vaccine also can deal with the new virus variant."

Furthermore, a vaccine could be quickly designed to target the new variant, said Sahin.

"We can directly start to engineer a vaccine which completely mimics this new mutation and we could be able to provide a new vaccine, technically within six weeks.

"Of course, this is not only a technical question, we have to deal with the question of how regulators, how EMA, FDA and other authorities would see that: but technically it is possible to make a new vaccine mimicking the new strains within a few weeks."

The Pfizer/BioNTech was first authorized in the UK on December 2, followed by the US and then the EU yesterday. It has received authorization in more than 45 countries worldwide.

The two companies aim to provide 50 million doses by the end of the year; and up to 1.3 billion doses by the end of 2021.

AstraZeneca: vaccine trains body to recognize many parts of spike protein

AstraZeneca also believes its viral vector vaccine should be effective against the new variant.

"AZD1222 contains the genetic material of the SARS-CoV-2 virus spike protein, and the changes to the genetic code seen in this new viral strain do not appear to change the structure of the spike protein,"
said a spokesperson.

"Through vaccination with AZD1222, the body’s immune system is trained to recognize many different parts of the spike protein, so that it can eliminate the virus if it is later exposed.

"Therefore even with these recent mutations we believe the vaccine should still be effective.

"Studies are however underway to fully investigate the impact of this mutation."

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), meanwhile, has advised close monitoring of people vaccinated against COVID-19 to identify if cases caused by the new variant arise.

While the new variant (VUI202012/01) is believed to increase transmissibility, upping the reproductive number by 0.4 or more, there is no indication at this point that infections are more severe, says the ECDC.

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