Pfizer Says Its Vaccine Likely Blocks COVID Variant

Carolyn Crist

January 21, 2021

Editor's note: Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape's Coronavirus Resource Center.

The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is likely to be effective against the contagious variant strain of the virus that was discovered in the United Kingdom, according to a study conducted by the two companies.

Posted on the pre-print server bioRxiv on Tuesday, the study says there's "no biologically significant difference in neutralization activity" between lab tests on the variant and the original coronavirus strain.

The research hasn't yet been peer-reviewed. No independent study of the vaccine's effective against the variant has been published.

"The ongoing evolution of SARS-CoV-2 necessitates continuous monitoring of the significance of changes for maintained protection by currently authorized vaccines," the authors wrote.

The variant, which is called B.1.1.7, has a large number of mutations and is known to be more transmissible between humans. Public health officials have voiced concerns about the spread of the variant and the efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines against it. This is the first paper published by a COVID-19 vaccine maker that tests the idea, and Moderna and AstraZeneca have said they anticipate their vaccines to be effective against the variant as well, according to CNBC.

In this small study, the mutations associated with the variant were neutralized by antibodies in the blood of 16 study participants who participated in the original Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine trial in Germany. Half of the group were between ages 18-55, and the other half were 56-85.

Early in January, Pfizer and BioNTech published another preprint paper that said the vaccine should also be effective against another variant discovered in South Africa, which is also highly contagious. More studies will be needed to verify the results, the authors wrote in both papers.

"Preserved neutralization is reassuring, and preparation for potential COVID-19 vaccine strain change is prudent," they wrote in the most recent study. "Such an adaptation of the vaccine to a new virus strain would be facilitated by the flexibility of mRNA-based vaccine technology."

The CDC predicted last week that the U.K. variant could become the dominant form of the coronavirus in the country by March. As vaccine distribution rolls out across the U.S., health officials continue to urge people to wear masks, practice social distancing and limit non-essential activities to prevent the spread of the more contagious strain.

"The increased transmissibility of the B.1.1.7 variant warrants universal and increased compliance with mitigation strategies, including distancing and masking," the CDC COVID-19 Response Team wrote in the report. "Higher vaccination coverage might need to be achieved to protect the public."

Sources

bioRxiv, "Neutralization of SARS-CoV-2 lineage B.1.1.7 pseudovirus by BNT162b2 vaccine-elicited human sera."

CNBC, "Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine found to be effective against Covid variant discovered in UK."

bioRxiv, "Neutralization of N501Y mutant SARS-CoV-2 by BNT162b2 vaccine-elicited sera."

CDC, "Emergence of SARS-CoV-2 B.1.1.7 Lineage — United States, December 29, 2020–January 12, 2021."

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