Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine ‘seems effective against fast-spreading mutation of virus’

EU adds 300 million doses to stockpile amid criticism of inoculation campaign

epa08925389 French nurse Karine Groen prepares a dose of Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine during a medical staff members vaccination at the Semur en Auxois hospital center in Semur-en-Auxois, near Dijon, France, 07 January 2021. France began its coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccination campaign on 27 December 2020. The French government has faced criticism over the slow progress of its drive to vaccinate people, a problem compounded by the high levels of public skepticism about the campaign.  EPA/CHRISTOPHE PETIT TESSON

The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine appears to work against a fast-spreading mutation of of coronavirus, a study has found.

Th study from Pfizer and University of Texas researchers found the vaccine was effective in neutralising the N501Y mutation of the Covid-19 spike protein.

The mutation has been found in strains in Britain and South Africa, resulting in increased transmissibility and raising concern over the effectiveness of vaccines.

The European Union has doubled its supply of the Pfizer/BioNTech's product to 600 million doses. The bloc was under pressure after criticism it had not built a sufficient stockpile of vaccines.

While the study is welcome news, its findings are limited as it did not analyse the full set of mutations found in either of the new variants of the rapidly spreading virus.

Phil Dormitzer, one of Pfizer’s top viral vaccine scientists, said it was encouraging that the vaccine appears effective against the mutation, as well as 15 mutations the company has tested against.

“So we’ve now tested 16 different mutations and none of them have really had any significant impact. That’s the good news,” he said. “That doesn’t mean that the 17th won’t.”

Passengers queue to be tested by medical staff at a South Africa Health Department mobile coronavirus testing unit outside O.R Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, South Africa, on Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2020. South Africa's government has drawn criticism over its Covid-19 vaccine rollout plan, with unions and medical groups among those to have expressed concern about the sluggishness of the state’s response amid a resurgence in cases, hospitalizations and deaths. Photographer: Guillem Sartorio/Bloomberg

He said another mutation found in the South African variant called E484K was concerning.

The researchers plan to run similar tests on the vaccines efficacy against other mutations found in the UK and South African variants and they hope to have more data within weeks.

Simon Clarke, an associate professor in cellular microbiology at the University of Reading, said this week that while both variants had some new features in common, the one found in South Africa “has a number additional mutations” that included more extensive alterations to the spike protein.

The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine and the Moderna drug, which both use synthetic messenger RNA technology, can be altered quickly to address new mutations of a virus and scientists suggested changes could be made within six weeks.