On Thursday, results were released from a preliminary study indicating that the Pfizer vaccine against COVID-19 may successfully fight off variant forms of the virus that have been discovered in Great Britain and South Africa. The study has not yet been peer-reviewed.
Researchers from the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston joined with Pfizer to examine how the Pfizer vaccine countered the variant viruses, some of which which share a mutation called N501Y that alters the spike protein coating the virus, thus rendering it more contagious.
“They used blood samples from 20 people who received the vaccine, made by Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech, during a large study of the shots,” AP reported. “Antibodies from those vaccine recipients successfully fended off the virus in lab dishes, according to the study posted late Thursday on an online site for researchers.”
The study states:
Since the previously reported studies were conducted, rapidly spreading variants of SARS-CoV-2 have arisen in the United Kingdom and South Africa. These variants have multiple mutations in their S glycoproteins, which are are key targets of virus neutralizing antibodies. These rapidly spreading variants share the spike N501Y substitution. This mutation is of particular concern because it is located in the viral receptor binding site for cell entry, increases binding to the receptor (angiotensin converting enzyme 2), and enables the virus to expand its host-range to infect mice. …
A limitation of this finding is that the Y501 virus does not include the full set of spike mutations found on the rapidly-spreading strains in the UK or South Africa. Nevertheless, preserved neutralization of Y501 virus by BNT106b2-elicited human sera is consistent with preserved neutralization of a panel of 15 pseudoviruses bearing spikes with other mutations found in circulating SARS-CoV-2 strains.
Pfizer chief scientific officer Dr. Philip Dormitzer stated that the results were “a very reassuring finding that at least this mutation, which was one of the ones people are most concerned about, does not seem to be a problem” for the vaccine. He also cautioned, “So we’ve now tested 16 different mutations, and none of them have really had any significant impact. That’s the good news. That doesn’t mean that the 17th won’t.”
Stephen Evans, professor of pharmacoepidemiology, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, echoed, “This is good news, mainly because it is not bad news. 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 South Africa variant virus, which contains a mutation named E484K, was not one of the roughly 15 possible virus mutations that were tested, but Dormitzer said it will be tested next, adding that if the Pfizer vaccine needed to be altered to counter a variant virus, not only Pfizer’s vaccine but other successful vaccines would not be difficult to alter.
AstraZeneca, Moderna and CureVac are also testing their vaccines against mutant viruses.
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