Amidst rising fears of two new COVID-19 strains appearing in the UK and South Africa, Pfizer and BioNTech have published results of a new study that shows that their Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 (BNT162b2) vaccine may be effective against the new mutant strains of coronavirus.
The results of the study were published before peer-review on preprint server BioRxiv. The study was conducted using a virus that mimicked the peculiar binding and cell-entry mechanisms of the mutated coronavirus strain. The results, described as "encouraging", showed that people who had been administered with the Pfizer vaccine were able to fight off the mutant strain as well.
The new study comes in the wake of scientists at the South African National Institute for Communicable Diseases discovering that half of the blood samples from former COVID-19 patients did not have the antibodies needed to protect against the South African variant of the virus. However, the study was small and had not undergone peer-review process yet, but still raised fears of vaccine efficacy and re-infection.
Pfizer's official press release claims that it is "very unlikely that the UK variant viruses will escape" the vaccine. The study was conducted on 16 German volunteers from Phase 1 and 2 trials of the vaccine.
"The preserved neutralization of the pseudo-virus bearing the U.K. strain spike by BNT162b2- immune sera makes it likely that COVID-19 caused by the UK virus variant will also be prevented by immunization with BNT162b2," the press release reads.
The testing was conducted using all ten variations of the 'spike proteins' found on the surface of the COVID-19 virus making it more comprehensive than single-protein studies conducted before. Researchers at the Rockefeller Foundation have already warned that 'periodic updation' may be needed to keep up vaccine efficacy.
Wendy Barclay, the head of infectious diseases at Imperial College London had previously spoken about the need to be cautious as more virus variants were likely to arise due to natural selection.
"We have reached a point one year on and in certain parts of the world where the density of natural immunity is sufficient so that the variants that have got a fitness advantage… are more likely to emerge and spread," she said.