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The chief executive of the German pharmaceutical company BioNTech has said he is confident its coronavirus vaccine works against the new UK variant, but that further studies are need to be certain.
Uğur Şahin told a press conference that his team had been working on trying to find out whether the vaccine worked on the UK variant or whether it would be necessary to adapt it. Results would be known within two weeks, he said.
“We don’t know at the moment if our vaccine is also able to provide protection against this new variant,” Şahin said a day after the vaccine was approved for use in the European Union. “But scientifically, it is highly likely that the immune response by this vaccine also can deal with the new virus variants.”
Şahin said the proteins on the UK variant were 99% the same as those on the prevailing strains, and therefore BioNTech had “scientific confidence” that its vaccine would be effective. “We believe there is no reason to be concerned or worried.”
If the vaccine need to be adjusted for the new variant, the company could do that in about six weeks, Şahin said, although regulators might have to approve the changes before the vaccines can be used.
BioNTech’s vaccine, developed with the US pharmaceutical company Pfizer, has been authorised for use in more than 45 countries, including Britain and the US.
How does the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine work?
The Pfizer/BioNTech Covid jab is an mRNA vaccine. Essentially, mRNA is a molecule used by living cells to turn the gene sequences in DNA into the proteins that are the building blocks of all their fundamental structures. A segment of DNA gets copied (“transcribed”) into a piece of mRNA, which in turn gets “read” by the cell’s tools for synthesising proteins.
In the case of an mRNA vaccine, the virus’s mRNA is injected into the muscle, and our own cells then read it and synthesise the viral protein. The immune system reacts to these proteins – which can’t by themselves cause disease – just as if they’d been carried in on the whole virus. This generates a protective response that, studies suggest, lasts for some time.
The two first Covid-19 vaccines to announce phase 3 three trial results were mRNA-based. They were first off the blocks because, as soon as the genetic code of Sars-CoV-2 was known – it was published by the Chinese in January 2020 – companies that had been working on this technology were able to start producing the virus’s mRNA. Making conventional vaccines takes much longer.
Adam Finn, professor of paediatrics at the Bristol Children’s Vaccine Centre, University of Bristol
The variant, detected mainly in London and the south-east of England in recent weeks, has sparked concern worldwide because of signs it may spread more easily. While there is no indication it causes more serious illness, several countries in Europe and beyond have restricted travel from the UK as a result.
On Tuesday Germany expanded its ban on passenger flights from the UK, now forbidding passenger arrivals by rail, bus and ship. The health minister, Jens Spahn, said the expanded measure took effect at midnight, a day after flights were halted.
Germany has applied similar measures to South Africa, where a new variant of the coronavirus has also been detected. The measures apply through to 6 January, although there are exceptions for freight and mail transport, and for medical and humanitarian flights.
Spahn said: “We want to avoid for as long as we can that a possibly dangerous virus variant spreads to continental Europe.”
However, Lothar Wieler, the head of Germany’s national disease control centre, said it was likely the UK variant was already circulating in Germany.
Wieler, who heads the Robert Koch Institute, said it was common for viruses’ genetic material to change, and that that could affect how transmissible they were.
“Whether that is really the case with the variant in England is not yet entirely clear,” Wieler said. “What is clear is that the more widely viruses spread, the more opportunity they have to change.”
A leading German virologist who was initially sceptical about reports that the strain was more transmissible, voiced concern after seeing further data. Christian Drosten, a professor of virology at Berlin’s Charité hospital, tweeted that “unfortunately it doesn’t look good”.
But, he added: “What is positive is that cases with the mutation so far only increased in areas where the overall incidence was high or rising. So contact reduction also works against the spread of the mutation.”
Addressing the situation at the UK’s borders, BioNTech’s chief business and commercial officer, Sean Marrett, said he did not anticipate problems in getting supplies of the vaccine to the UK. “There are not just routes through the Channel tunnel,” he said.
Reuters contributed to this report
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Covid vaccine ‘highly likely’ to work on UK variant, BioNTech says | Coronavirus