JOHANNESBURG, 29 January 2021 – Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines are effective against variants of coronavirus discovered in the United Kingdom and South Africa.
Earlier this week, Moderna admitted that their vaccine offered less protection against the variant in South Africa, which may be more adept at dodging antibodies in the bloodstream.
Preliminary studies are ongoing on the AstraZeneca vaccine to ascertain its effectiveness on the new strains.
It is normal for a virus to undergo mutations, with each new mutation known as a variant or a strain.
Scientists have documented thousands of mutated versions of the coronavirus, including the strains that have been detected in the UK, South Africa, Brazil and Japan.
Each strain is closely monitored by health experts but only a few of the most complicated strains deserve the additional attention given by scientists and researchers in institutions like the U.S. Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC).
A lot less is known about the newly-detected Japanese strain of the virus compared to the UK strain. Scientists have said the Brazilian variant is very close to the South African strain which has been shown to reduce antibody recognition.
The biggest concern has been that this would help the South African variant and similar variants to bypass immune protection provided by prior infection or vaccination.
The most reassuring news on vaccinations and treatment in January 2021 has been confirmation by scientists that the progress made in developing lifesaving vaccines will not come to nought because of the emergence of new variants.
Current COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna can easily be adapted to target new strains of the virus, White House Health Advisor, Dr. Anthony Fauci, said Wednesday during his briefing to the press.
Drugmakers are, in fact, already working to make so-called “booster” shots that will target the new variants, Dr. Fauci added.
The newly developed mRNA technology used to develop the vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna makes it easy to adapt to the new strains, added Dr. Fauci who is America’s top medical expert and director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
The United Kingdom, South African and Brazilian strains are more contagious and have been at the origin of huge spikes in COVID-19 infections in these countries.
The South Africa variant known as B. 1.351, has scientists worried on account of “its unusually large number of mutations, especially in the spike protein, which the virus uses to attach to and infect human cells,” The Wall Street Journal wrote Thursday, citing scientists.
The spike protein is also the part of the virus targeted by Covid-19 vaccines and antibody treatments.
We will continue to monitor the “real-world effectiveness” against the new strains, vaccine manufacturers have pledged.
Both Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech have committed to remain “transparent and honest” on whatever – good or bad news – their research turns up.
So far, they insist that there is no clear evidence that the new strains are more likely to re-infect people who have previously had COVID-19.
“If natural immunity does in fact hold up, then immunity gained from a vaccine likely would as well,” reads one answer posted to Frequently Asked Questions about COVID-19.
On Friday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration noted data suggests current COVID-19 vaccines are still effective against the latest reported variations of the virus.
The FDA has said it is monitoring to see if the latest reported variation of the virus produces a false negative on tests. Scientists at FDA believe the impact on the overall testing accuracy remains very low.