BioNTech's chief executive Ugur Sahin told reporters Tuesday it is "highly likely" his company's COVID-19 vaccine, which was developed alongside Pfizer and has been rolled out in several countries including the United States, will hold up against the new coronavirus variant that was first identified in the United Kingdom.
Scientists have many questions about the variant, which appears to be more transmissible, including how it affects vaccine efficacy. Per Reuters, Sahin said he'll need another two weeks of study and data collection to determine whether the Pfizer-BioNTech shot will remain effective, but he is confident the mutations won't be enough to evade the immune response it induces. "The vaccine contains more than 1,270, and only nine of them are changed (in the mutant virus)," Sahin said. "That means 99 percent of the protein is still the same."
Even if an adjustment is required, the mRNA technology used in both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines would theoretically allow the companies to "engineer a vaccine which completely mimics the new mutation," Sahin said. In that hypothetical scenario it could take just six weeks to produce a new version of the vaccine, though Sahin noted regulators would have to re-evaluate things at that point. Read more at Reuters.