BEVERLY HILLS, January 27, (THEWILL) – Pfizer announced it is developing a booster to help its vaccine protect against new highly-infectious variants just hours after the first case of Brazil’s ‘super-COVID’ was reported in the US.
“Every time a new variant comes up we should be able to test whether or not (our vaccine) is effective. Once we discover something that it is not as effective, we will very, very quickly be able to produce a booster dose that will be a small variation to the current vaccine”, Pfizer chief, Albert Bourla, said during a Bloomberg event.
This is coming after Moderna announced that it is advancing its own variant booster shot to combat the South African variant to clinical trials.
Lab tests done by both firms suggest each of their vaccines will work well enough against coronavirus variants from the UK and South Africa to be ‘protective.’
But Moderna’s tests suggested the South African variant might make their shot less effective, or cut the amount of time that the vaccine works for.
It comes after Minnesota reported the first case in US of the Brazilian P1 COVID-19 variant. Already, at least 175 people in the US have the UK ‘super-covid’ variant.
No cases of the South African variant have been detected in the US so far, but the Brazilian variant shares mutations with it that could make vaccines less effective against either.
Bourla said ‘there is a high probability’ that coronavirus will become an annual, seasonal virus, and vaccines may have to be augmented yearly too, to combat its evolving forms.
Pfizer announced last week that its vaccine was effective against the B117 variant that has become dominant in the UK and has been detected in at least 25 states.
Its lab studies showed that antibodies triggered by the vaccine successfully bind to the mutated spike protein that makes B117 about 70 percent more infectious.
The firm noted that the lab study did not test the vaccine against the whole, live virus, but said the findings make it ‘likely that COVID-19 caused by the U.K. virus variant will also be prevented by immunization with’ its shot.
It also noted that the South African variant shares the mutation seen in B117’s spike.
However, the South African variant has additional mutations, including some to its spike protein that are also present in the Brazilian variant.
Not only do the mutations of the South African and Brazilian variants make them about 50 percent more infectious, they may also help the virus ‘hide’ from antibodies triggered by vaccines or prior infection.
“What they’re likely seeing is a diminution more with the South African variant than the UK variant in what would be the efficacy in the vaccine-induced antibody,”, Dr Anthony Fauci said at a White House press briefing last week.
Moderna said Monday that its vaccine was still protective against the South African variant’s spike mutation in lab tests.
However, the potency of antibodies from the shot against the mutation was about six times lower compared to how effective it is against the original form of coronavirus in similar lab tests.
The efficacy of the shot against the variants hasn’t been tested in humans or animals.
But Moderna’s and Pfizer’s shots are both mRNA vaccines, so if the new variant renders one less effective, it’s possible the same will be true for the other.
Bourla also said the firm is ahead of schedule for its delivery of vaccines to the US and other nations in 2021.
Supply chain issues for raw materials put it behind schedule late last year and Pfizer had to cut its projected global shipments for the end of 2020 by half.