In a study conducted by the US Drugmaker Pfizer, the company’s COVID-19 vaccine appeared to work against a key mutation in the highly transmissible new variants of the coronavirus discovered in the UK and South Africa, according to a laboratory study that is yet to be peer-reviewed.
Pfizer and scientists from the University of Texas Medical Branch in a joint study, indicated the vaccine was effective in neutralizing the virus with the so-called N501Y mutation of the spike protein. The mutation could be responsible for greater transmissibility and there had been concern it could also make the virus escape antibody neutralization elicited by the vaccine, said Phil Dormitzer, one of Pfizer’s top viral vaccine scientists.
Dormitzer said it was encouraging that the vaccine appears effective against the mutation, as well as 15 other mutations the company has previously 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.”
The study was conducted on blood taken from people who had been given the vaccine. Its findings are limited, because it does not look at the full set of mutations found in either of the new variants of the rapidly spreading virus, and Dormitzer noted another mutation found in the South African variant, called the E484K mutation, is also concerning.
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.
Engineered using the Messenger RNA technology, both- the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine and the one from Moderna Inc, can be quickly tweaked to address new mutations of a virus if necessary. This being said, if at all the need arises for the vaccine to cater to a new strain, scientists have suggested the changes could be made in as little as six weeks.
Meanwhile, as the vaccine is covering frontline workers in Phase 1 of the inoculation drive across the country, a record-breaking series of numbers are coming up in the US with each passing day. The United States set a new grim milestone Thursday with more than 4,000 COVID-19 deaths recorded in a single day.