Pfizer-BioNTech Shot Likely Beats New Covid Strain, EMA Says

The new strain of Covid-19 that emerged in the U.K. probably isn’t different enough from earlier ones to elude Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE’s vaccine, Europe’s health regulator said.

The antibody response seen from the shot shouldn’t be compromised by the effects of mutations in the new strain, Marco Cavaleri, chairman of the European Medicines Agency’s pandemic taskforce, said in a press briefing on Monday. Health authorities would start to be worried “if we see multiple mutations, particularly in the spike protein,” Cavaleri said.

“Even if we don’t have yet full confirmation, it is very likely that the vaccine will retain protection against this new variant,” Cavaleri said. The U.K. started its vaccination campaign on Dec. 8. By Monday, some 500,000 people had gotten their first dose of the vaccine, Health Minister Matt Hancock tweeted.

The regulator’s optimism comes as Europe closes its U.K. borders and London faces an emergency lockdown to keep the mutant strain from spreading. The new variant appears to spread much more quickly than previous strains in circulation, U.K. health authorities have warned, though it does not seem to be more lethal.

Although coronaviruses generally don’t mutate as quickly as viruses responsible for seasonal flu, scientists have been tracking small changes throughout the pandemic. The U.K. variant raised worries because samples collected from patients showed that the new strain was fueling a disproportionate number of new infections.

The spike protein Cavaleri referenced is key because it’s the target for many of the Covid-19 vaccines in development -- including the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna Inc. shots that have already won emergency authorization in the U.S.

The European Commission approved Pfizer’s vaccine on Monday, clearing the path for immunizations to start in Europe before the end of the year.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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