Pfizer and BioNTech say they are testing a third dose of their COVID-19 vaccine to better understand the immune response against new variants of the virus.
They are also in talks with regulatory authorities about testing a vaccine modified to protect specifically against the highly transmissible new variant found in South Africa and elsewhere, as a second arm of the same study.
The companies believe their current two-dose vaccine will work against the variant that was first detected in South Africa as well as the one found in the United Kingdom.
The United States discovered its first case of the variant that was first detected in South Africa in January and it has since turned up in 14 states. Several studies suggest it is more resistant to existing vaccines than other variants of the coronavirus.
South African scientists to discuss Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine’s efficacy against new COVID-19 variant
South African scientists met last week to discuss a laboratory study over the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine’s efficacy against the coronavirus variant discovered in the country.
Speaking to the Reuters News Agency, spokesperson for the Health Ministry Popo Maja said government will be guided by the recommendations of the scientists in the matter.
South Africa plans to start rolling out the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine in the coming months.
Spokesperson for health regulator South African Health Products Regulatory Authority, Yuven Gounden, has said the Pfizer application is currently under review.
Discussion on Pfizer-BioNTech efficacy against new COVID-19 variants:
Pfizer-BioNTech appears effective
The Pfizer Inc and BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine appeared to work against the highly transmissible new variants of the coronavirus discovered in Britain and South Africa, according to a laboratory study conducted by the US drugmaker.
The study by Pfizer and scientists from the University of Texas Medical Branch, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, indicated the vaccine was effective in neutralising virus with the so-called N501Y variant of the spike protein.
The mutation could be responsible for greater transmissibility and there had been concern it could also make the virus escape antibody neutralisation elicited by the vaccine, said Phil Dormitzer, one of Pfizer’s top viral vaccine scientists.
The first results of tests on the variants offer a glimmer of hope while more studies are carried out as Britain and other countries try to tame the more infectious variants which authorities believe are driving a surge in infections that could overwhelm healthcare systems.
The Pfizer-BioNTech study was conducted on blood taken from people who had been given the vaccine. Its findings are limited because it does not look at the full set of mutations found in either of the new variants of the rapidly spreading virus.
The World Health Organisation in January listed the COVID-19 vaccine from Pfizer and BioNTech for emergency use, saying the move opens the door for countries to expedite their own approvals to import and give the shot.