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Pfizer says South African variants can significantly reduce vaccine protection

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(Reuters)-A South African variant of the coronavirus could reduce antibody protection from the Pfizer / BioNTech SE vaccine by two-thirds, according to laboratory studies, and the shot was mutated. It’s unclear if it will work, the two companies said Wednesday.

Studies show that vaccines can still neutralize the virus, and there is still no evidence from people’s trials that mutants reduce vaccine protection.

Still, they are investing and discussing the development of updated or booster shots of the mRNA vaccine with regulators as needed.

For this study, companies and scientists at the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) found the same mutation in the spike portion of a highly contagious coronavirus variant known as B.1.351, first discovered in South Africa. We have developed a genetically engineered virus that contains. Spikes, which the virus uses to invade human cells, are the primary target of many COVID-19 vaccines.

Researchers have tested artificial viruses on blood collected from vaccinated people and compared their effects on the most common versions of the virus prevalent in US trials, with levels of neutralizing antibodies. Was found to decrease by two-thirds.

Their findings were published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM).

Since there is no established benchmark to determine the level of antibody needed to protect against the virus, whether a two-thirds reduction would invalidate the vaccine against mutants that are widespread worldwide. Is unknown.

However, UTMB professor and study co-author Pei-Yong Shi said he believes the Pfizer vaccine is likely to prevent this variant.

“I don’t know what the minimum neutralization number is. We don’t have that cut-off line,” he said, and the observed immune response far exceeds where it is needed to provide protection. He added that it is likely to be.

This is a single dose in clinical trials where both the Pfizer / BioNTech vaccine and a similar shot from Moderna Inc have lower antibody responses than the level reduction caused by South African variants in laboratory studies. It later provided some protection.

He said the vaccine should still help protect against serious illness and death, even if the mutants of concern significantly reduce their effectiveness. Health experts said it was the most important factor in preventing the extended health system from being overwhelmed.

To understand whether the vaccine is effective against South African variants, more, including benchmarks to determine which antibody levels are protective, such as clinical trials and the development of defense correlations. Work is needed, Shi said.

Pfizer and BioNTech said they are doing similar laboratory work to understand whether their vaccine is effective against another variant first discovered in Brazil.

Moderna published a correspondence on Wednesday at NEJM, showing similar data previously disclosed elsewhere, showing a 6-fold reduction in antibody levels compared to the South African variant.

Modana also said that the actual efficacy of the vaccine against South African variants has not yet been determined. The company previously said it believed the vaccine was effective against mutants.

Report by Michael Erman; Additional report by Julie Steenhuysen in Chicago. Edited by Bill Berkrot

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