Vaccine Maker Tries to Ease Fears About New Strain

BioNTech CEO says its current vaccine should work against it, and will be fixable if it doesn't
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 22, 2020 1:06 PM CST
Vaccine Maker Tries to Ease Fears About New Strain
Ugur Sahin, CEO of Biontech, stands outside company headquarters in Mainz, Germany, on Tuesday.   (Andreas Arnold/dpa via AP)

Experiments will be needed to be sure, but BioNTech figures the vaccine the German company developed with Pfizer will work against the new coronavirus strain now racing through Britain. "We don't know at the moment if our vaccine is also able to provide protection against this new variant," chief executive Ugur Sahin said Tuesday, NPR reports. "But scientifically, it is highly likely that the immune response by this vaccine also can deal with the new virus variant." It will be weeks before experiments can be completed and the data analyzed. Speaking to reporters in BioNTech headquarters in Mainz, Sahin said he has not just hope but "scientific confidence" that the vaccine will be effective, saying 99% of the proteins are the same in the two coronavirus strains.

And if the existing vaccine isn't effective against the new strain? "We can directly start to engineer a vaccine which completely mimics this new mutation," Sahin said, "and we could be able to provide a new vaccine, technically within six weeks." He pointed out that a new vaccine would again need the approval of regulators, including the Food and Drug Administration and the European Medicines Agency, before it could be used. The new strain could still complicate achieving herd immunity, Sahin said, per the Wall Street Journal. "If the virus becomes more efficient in infecting people, we might need even a higher vaccination rate to ensure that normal life can continue without interruption," he said. (Anthony Fauci says we should assume the new strain is in the US, too.)

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