Pfizer, Moderna testing COVID-19 vaccines against new mutated variant

Washington, Dec 22 (Agency) US companies Pfizer and Moderna are testing the effectiveness of their COVID-19 vaccines against a new and more contagious strain of the coronavirus that was recently discovered in the United Kingdom, media reported on Tuesday, citing vaccine developers. Last week, the UK government announced that the mutated coronavirus strain that can transmit up to 70-percent faster has been actively spreading in London and the surrounding areas. The authorities have responded to the spread of the new strain, named VUI-202012/01, by introducing the highest level of alert in some areas. Amid fears of the mutated strain, more than a dozen countries in Europe and elsewhere, including Russia, Turkey, Israel and India, have announced decisions to halt air traffic with the UK.

“Based on the data to date, we expect that the Moderna vaccine-induced immunity would be protective against the variants recently described in the UK; we will be performing additional tests in the coming weeks to confirm this expectation,” Moderna said in a statement. Moreover, Pfizer said in a statement that it is “generating data” to assess the effectiveness of blood samples immunized with its vaccine, developed in partnership with German firm BioNTech, against VUI-202012/01. At the same time, BioNTech has expressed confidence in the efficacy of the vaccine against the mutated variant. “We have already tested the vaccine against about 20 other variants of the virus with other mutations. The immune response caused by our vaccine has always inactivated all forms of the virus,” BioNTech CEO Ugur Sahin told the German dpa agency.

Meanwhile, several researchers examining the genome of VUI-202012/01 told CNN that they have concerns that mutations may have a negative impact on the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines. The new coronavirus variant, which infects at a more rapid rate but does not appear to be more deadly or pose any concerns for vaccines, has also been detected in the Netherlands, Denmark, Belgium, Italy, South Africa and Australia. US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci has said that the UK variant may already be spreading in the US.