The vaccine developed by Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE may offer some protection against a mutation in the new fast-spreading variants of the coronavirus that have emerged from the U.K. and South Africa, according to a recent study.
The study, by researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch and supported by Pfizer and BioNTech, showed the vaccine is likely to generate a protective immune response to new coronavirus variants carrying the so-called N501Y mutation in the virus’s spike protein. The study was released ahead of publication and peer review.
The research examined the response to the mutant viruses in blood sera taken from 20 people vaccinated with the companies’ mRNA vaccine. The research didn’t study other mutations in the spike protein. Still, the findings were consistent with the response to a panel of 15 so-called pseudoviruses bearing spikes with other mutations found in circulating SARS-CoV-2 strains, they said.
Executives at BioNTech — as well as from Moderna Inc., the developer of a rival mRNA shot — have said they believe their vaccines will protect against the new strains. The University of Texas study is one of the first to back up those claims.
The research comes as Covid-19 is spreading globally at record daily levels, likely accelerated by the new strains, and as countries begin to roll out their vaccines. The new U.K. variant, which has been identified across the U.S. as well as in countries from South Korea to Canada, is thought to be 57% to 70% more transmissible than other strains of the virus.
Viruses have the opportunity to change through mutations that arise naturally as they replicate and circulate in their hosts. Some, like influenza, evolve quickly with thousands of mutations and distinct lineages, while others are more stable.