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Coronavirus variants that have burst through the UK and South Africa over the past month have been heavily scrutinized in laboratories around the world, as scientists try to get a grip on how threatened the mutated strains are. One of the main concerns is that the new variants may be able to roll out current vaccines, with two more developed by Pfizer / BioNTech being currently rolled out in the US.
On Thursday, a Reuters report describing a new study showed that Pfizer’s vaccine could effectively neutralize variants with mutations called N501Y, a variant found in South Africa and known as the UK variant. Is, independently known as 19.1.7. The study is yet to be peer reviewed, but preprint depositories can be found on biorexive.
“This is preliminary, but it certainly suggests that the vaccine would also work against these variants,” said Larissa Labzin, an immunologist at the University of Queensland.
Coronaviruses mutate continuously as they move from human to human and, for the most part, do not significantly alter the virus. However, a handful of mutations, including strain B.1.1.7, allow the virus to spread more quickly. These changes occur in the spike of the virus, an important protein that allows the virus to enter and abduct human cells.
There was reason to be cautious when the news of B.1.1.7 being broadcast was first broken. The new data was initially provided by Prime Minister Boris Johnson at a UK press conference on 19 December., It was too early to tell how the mutation might have changed the characteristics of the virus. Simply put, we needed more data.
Crucially, the new version does not appear to be more deadly, as Johnson noted in his presser. “There is no evidence that the variant causes more severe disease or higher mortality, but it appears to pass more easily,” he said. However, the ability of the variant to exclude our current vaccines was unheard of by scientists.
They have taken antibodies from people who have been immunized with the vaccine and are tested to see if those antibodies can still inhibit new variants, with significant changes in their spike proteins
But in the weeks that followed, this variant appeared in several locations around the world, including the US and Australia, where it dissolved the hotel quarantine system and put the city of Brisbane in immediate three days of lockdown. Concern has increased worldwide and many countries have increased scrutiny on their borders or closed them to UK travelers.
To test the ability of current vaccines against new variants, Pfizer used blood serum from 20 individuals who received the vaccine. This serum contains antibodies to the vaccine and can be tested in the lab against viruses with various mutations. Interim results look good.
Viral vaccine scientist Phil Dormitzer with Pfizer said, “So we have now tested 16 different mutations and none of them really have a significant effect. That’s good news.”
“That doesn’t mean there won’t be a 17th.”
Testing other aspects of the immune response will be important, Labzin said, such as how particular white blood cells react to infection with variants after vaccination. Other mutations in variants will also be investigated.
“Spike proteins have more changes than just a single mutation, but this is definitely positive news,” he said.
We do not have to go back to the drawing board if the variants are muted in such a way that they start reducing the efficacy of current vaccines. This is thanks to the “plug-n-play” nature of Pfizer and Modern’s vaccines. These vaccines use mRNA and can potentially “recode” within a few months to counter new variants. However, while, This has never been done before.
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about health or health purposes.