Pfizer Reports Good News on Fast-Spreading Strains

Its vaccine appears to protect against them
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jan 8, 2021 10:50 AM CST
'Reassuring' News on Those COVID Variants
A vial of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for COVID-19 sits on a table at Hartford Hospital in Hartford, Conn., on Dec. 14.   (AP Photo/Jessica Hill, File)

New research suggests Pfizer's COVID vaccine can protect against a mutation found in two easier-to-spread strains that erupted in Britain and South Africa. The variants carry multiple mutations but share one in common that's believed to be the reason they are more contagious, per the AP. Called N501Y, it's a slight alteration on one spot of the spike protein that coats the virus. Most of the vaccines being rolled out around the world train the body to recognize that spike protein and fight it. Pfizer teamed with researchers from the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston for laboratory tests to see if the mutation affected its vaccine's ability to do so. Antibodies in blood samples from 20 people who received the vaccine during a large study of the shots successfully fended off the virus in lab dishes, according to the study.

The research is preliminary and has not yet been reviewed by experts. But "it was a very reassuring finding that at least this mutation … does not seem to be a problem” for the vaccine, said Pfizer chief scientific officer Dr. Philip Dormitzer. Moderna is doing similar testing to tell if its vaccine also works against the variants, as are makers of other types of COVID-19 vaccines. Dr. Anthony Fauci recently told the AP that vaccines are designed to recognize multiple parts of the spike protein, making it unlikely a single mutation could be enough to block them. Still, testing is needed to be sure, particularly as the variant first discovered in South Africa has an additional mutation, one named E484K, that has scientists on edge. In the Pfizer study, E484K wasn't among those tested. (Vaccines can be tweaked if necessary.)

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