The chief executive of BioNTech
has said the German company does not yet know whether the vaccine it has jointly developed with Pfizer will work against the new strain of coronavirus.
Uğur Şahin said it would take two weeks to complete the laboratory work needed to demonstrate whether the shot, which has been developed with U.S. partner Pfizer
is effective against the new strain.
“We don’t know at the moment if our vaccine is also able to provide protection against this new variant,” Şahin said at a news conference on Tuesday to provide an update on the vaccine. “Scientifically, it is highly likely that the immune response by this vaccine also can deal with the new virus variants.”
Adjustments could be made to the vaccine within six weeks, although that might require regulatory approval, Şahin added.
More than 40 countries have banned U.K. arrivals amid growing concerns about the spread of the new strain of COVID-19 which Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said is behind a spike in cases in London and the South East of England.
In a threat assessment of the new strain, published on Dec. 20, the European Centre for Diseases Control said: “There is no indication at this point of increased infection severity associated with the new variant,” but said preliminary analysis in the U.K. suggests that this variant is up to 70% more transmissible than existing variants.
Şahin noted that the new strain had nine mutations instead of one, as is more usual. But he added that BioNTech had “scientific confidence” that the vaccine would be effective, because the proteins on the new U.K. variant were 99% the same as those on the prevailing strains.
His comments came a day after the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and the European Commission approved the BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine, paving the way for mass inoculations to take place across the bloc’s 27-member states.
Deliveries of the shot are expected to start on Saturday, with countries including Germany, Austria and Italy saying they plan to start vaccinations from Sunday. The EU has ordered 200 million doses of the vaccine, with an option to buy 100 million more.