Pfizer's Covid-19 vaccine appears to work against mutation in new coronavirus strains, study finds

CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta looks at the increasing number of Covid-19 cases and deaths in the United States and explains why health experts are unsure when these numbers will peak.

Posted: Jan 9, 2021 10:24 AM


A new study provides early evidence that a Covid-19 vaccine might be effective against two new coronavirus strains first identified in South Africa and the UK, despite a concerning mutation.

The two strains share a mutation known as N501Y that scientists worry could allow the virus to evade the immune protection generated by a vaccine.

In research posted online Thursday, scientists found that antibodies from people who had received the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine showed "no reduction in neutralization activity" against a version of the virus that carries the N501Y mutation, which they created in the lab.

In order to do this, researchers tested the virus against blood from 20 people who had received two doses of the vaccine as part of a clinical trial.

The N501Y mutation is located in the coronavirus' spike protein -- the same structure targeted by vaccines. The virus uses this protein to enter the cells it attacks.

This particular mutation appears to help the virus attach to human cells, which may partly explain why these new strains appear to be more transmissible. But it is just one of many mutations in both strains that scientists have worried could make the virus less susceptible to vaccines or treatments.

The study -- conducted by researchers at Pfizer and the University of Texas Medical Branch -- does not test the full array of these mutation, nor has it been peer-reviewed.

While viruses are expected to mutate -- often in ways that are neutral or even harmful to the virus -- experts say the whole is not merely the sum of the parts: Some mutations are known to interact with one another, occasionally changing the shape or function of structures like the spike protein.

"A limitation of this study is that the mutation was tested in isolation," Deborah Dunn-Walters, chair of the British Society for Immunology's taskforce on Covid-19 and immunology, said in a statement. She noted that mutations that may have a compound effect "should be tested together."

Because people usually make more than one type of antibody against a virus, experts say it's unlikely such a mutation would render the virus completely resistant to a vaccine. However, experts aren't so sure the new strains will have no impact at all.

"We will need to see actual protection from new variants in participants in the clinical trials that are still running to be sure the vaccine is equally effective," Alexander Edwards, associate professor in biomedical technology at University of Reading's school of pharmacy in the UK, said in a statement. Neither Edwards nor Dunn-Walters was involved in the new research.

If a virus is more transmissible or less susceptible to a vaccine, experts say that could also raise the bar for the number of people who would have to be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity.

In a statement last month, Pfizer said it had performed similar tests on "multiple mutant strains. To date, we have found consistent coverage of all the strains tested."

It will be important to continue "monitoring of the significance of changes for vaccine coverage," the researchers wrote in the new paper.

That's because of "the possibility that a future mutation ... might necessitate a vaccine strain change." Both Pfizer's and Moderna's vaccines use genetic technology that would allow the vaccines to be quickly adapted to account for mutations, they noted.

In a statement Friday, BioNTech said it and Pfizer "are encouraged by these early, in vitro study findings," but stressed that "further data are needed" to track the how effective the vaccine is at preventing disease caused by new variants.

New York Coronavirus Cases

County data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1650303

Reported Deaths: 47719
CountyCasesDeaths
Queens2118128784
Kings2109509118
Suffolk1628183086
Nassau1486692918
Bronx1445195881
Westchester1078572101
New York1039223906
Erie654191603
Richmond572011579
Monroe52679991
Rockland38628889
Orange37059720
Onondaga32452630
Dutchess22387408
Albany20890332
Oneida19735478
Niagara15324312
Broome14870336
Saratoga11970145
Schenectady10842178
Ulster10069228
Rensselaer9039132
Putnam836986
Chautauqua7336123
Chemung6440130
Oswego600289
Ontario580188
St. Lawrence553285
Steuben5509137
Cayuga537988
Jefferson480663
Sullivan475559
Herkimer4561107
Wayne447364
Cattaraugus442076
Genesee4411118
Madison384885
Clinton361026
Livingston355056
Tompkins345742
Columbia340096
Fulton333784
Montgomery3190107
Cortland316760
Allegany290481
Warren284155
Wyoming282049
Tioga280656
Greene264871
Orleans245181
Chenango243969
Otsego235543
Washington234352
Franklin208712
Lewis206730
Seneca162053
Delaware151933
Essex134226
Schoharie121012
Yates101426
Schuyler86812
Hamilton2842
Unassigned221140
Out of NY0192
Syracuse
Mostly Cloudy
22° wxIcon
Hi: 36° Lo: 5°
Feels Like: 22°
Binghamton
Mostly Cloudy
24° wxIcon
Hi: 37° Lo: 7°
Feels Like: 16°
Mostly Cloudy
° wxIcon
Hi: 38° Lo: 7°
Feels Like: °
Cloudy
° wxIcon
Hi: 32° Lo: -4°
Feels Like: °
WKTV Radar
WKTV Temperatures
WKTV Severe Weather
Submit your Mutt Madness Picture through March 10th
March into Beautiful Skin Giveaway
2021 Golfer's Paradise Card - 21 Courses for only $99.99
Saluting Those Who Are Proud 2 Serve