At a Glance
- Pfizer tested its vaccine against one mutation in the U.K. variant of the new coronavirus.
- The vaccine remained effective against the mutation, the study said.
- Scientists say viruses routinely mutate and they expect the COVID-19 vaccines to remain effective.
A new study has found that the COVID-19 vaccine produced by Pfizer and BioNTech remains effective against a mutation in variants of the coronavirus that are now spreading around the world.
The study, which looked at only one mutation among many in the variants, is not proof that all existing COVID-19 vaccines will still protect against the variants, but it's a positive step, scientists said.
"Had the opposite result been found ... that would have been bad and very concerning," Stephen Evans of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine told the BBC. "So, yes this is good news, but it does not yet give us total confidence that the Pfizer (or other) vaccines will definitely give protection."
The study, conducted by scientists at Pfizer and the University of Texas Medical Branch, looked at a mutation called N501Y that is in coronavirus variants, including one first found in the United Kingdom.
On Monday, the Indiana Department of Health announced the U.K. variant had been identified in that state. It also has turned up in at least eight other states, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Another variant, with similar mutations to the U.K. variant, was first discovered in South Africa. Like the U.K. variant, it also is turning up in other countries.
Virus mutations are common and expected. Many variants of the new coronavirus have been documented during this pandemic, the CDC said. The U.K. and South Africa variants have generated more concern because they seem to spread more easily and quickly than other variants. There is no evidence the variants cause more severe illness or increased risk of death, the CDC said.
One of the biggest worries has been whether or not vaccines will still be effective against the variants. The CDC said most experts think the vaccines will still work.
The N501Y mutation, which the Pfizer study examined, helps the virus attach to human cells and establish an infection, according to the study, which has been posted to a preprint server but not yet peer-reviewed.
Using blood samples from 20 participants in the vaccine's clinical trial, the researchers found the vaccine remained effective against the N501Y mutation.
The next step is to continue testing the vaccine against other mutations in the various variants.
Philip Dormitzer, Pfizer’s vice president and chief scientific officer of viral vaccines, told the STAT medical news site that Pfizer has tested its vaccine against more than a dozen coronavirus mutations "without finding anything alarming."
"I don’t want to be a Pollyanna here … we have to test each one as they come, but so far, so good," Dormitzer said.
Moderna, which also has a vaccine approved for use in the U.S., has said it, too, is performing tests on the coronavirus variants and expects its vaccine to be effective against them.
Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two shots about three weeks apart. Only about 6.7 million Americans, or 2% of the population, have received their first shots, according to the Associated Press.
For the latest coronavirus information in your county and a full list of important resources to help you make the smartest decisions regarding the disease, check out our dedicated COVID-19 page.
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