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BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine likely to protect against UK variant

January 20, 2021

A new study found that antibodies in patients vaccinated against COVID-19 were able to neutralize a version of the new variant. Researchers tested 10 mutations of the B117 variant, which was first identified in the UK.

Doses of the BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine
The BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine will also be effective against the more infectious UK variant, research showsImage: Christof STACHE/AFP

The COVID-19 vaccine developed by BioNTech and Pfizer is likely to protect against the highly infectious variant of the virus, originally found in the UK, according to the results of a study released on Wednesday.

The study, published on bioRxiv.org prior to peer review, showed that antibodies in the blood of vaccinated patients were able to neutralize a version of the new variant as well as the older virus version that the vaccine was originally designed for.

For the test, blood samples drawn from 16 vaccinated participants in prior clinical trials were exposed to a synthetic virus that was engineered to have the same surface proteins as B.1.1.7, sometimes referred to as "the UK variant." 

Israel's COVID vaccine rollout

Study covers additional mutations

Last week, Pfizer said a similar laboratory study showed the vaccine was effective against just one mutation — N501Y — found in both of the new variants originally detected in Britain and South Africa. However, the latest study included a synthetic virus with 10 mutations characteristic of the B117 variant. 

"Unlike for influenza vaccines, the reduction in neutralization that might indicate the need for a strain change has not been established for COVID-19 vaccines," the study said. "It is possible that vaccine efficacy could be preserved, even with substantial losses of neutralization by vaccine-elicited sera."

New hope in the fight against the virus

The authors of the study include BioNTech co-founders Ugur Sahin and Özlem Türeci. The new results provide additional hope, as Britain reports an increasing number of deaths and countries around the world grapple with the rapid spread of the new variants. 

The World Health Organization announced this week that 60 countries have detected the new variant since it was first documented in Britain in December. 

Meanwhile, pharmaceutical giants AstraZeneca, Moderna and CureVac are also testing whether their jabs will be able to protect against the new variants. 

lc/sms (Reuters, AFP)