Vaccine makers react to new COVID variant

Vaccine makers say it will take about two weeks for data on the new COVID strain to be available.
Vaccine makers say it will take about two weeks for data on the new COVID strain to be available.

Vaccine maker BioNTech says it expects more data on a worrying new coronavirus variant detected in South Africa within two weeks to help determine whether its vaccine produced with partner Pfizer needs to be reworked.

Pfizer and BioNTech said on Friday they would expect to be able to ship a new vaccine tailored to the emerging variant in approximately 100 days, if it was deemed necessary.

"We understand the concern of experts and have immediately initiated investigations on variant B.1.1.529," BioNTech said in a statement.

"We expect more data from the laboratory tests in two weeks at the latest. These data will provide more information about whether B.1.1.529 could be an escape variant that may require an adjustment of our vaccine if the variant spreads globally."

Moderna said in a statement it is working to advance a booster candidate tailored to the new variant and has also been testing a higher dose of its existing booster and studying other booster candidates designed to protect against multiple variants.

"A booster dose of an authorised vaccine represents the only currently available strategy for boosting waning immunity," Moderna said in the statement.

Escape variants are those that elude the targeted immune response brought about by vaccination.

Global authorities reacted with alarm on Friday to the new variant, with the USA, Canada, the EU and the United Kingdom among those tightening border controls as scientists race to find out if the mutation is vaccine-resistant.

Pfizer and BioNTech have already created versions of their established mRNA-based vaccine - based on the original virus found in the Chinese city of Wuhan - to target the so-called Alpha and Delta variants, with clinical trials ongoing.

Those efforts are not meant to yield commercial products; the exercise is carried out to establish a routine with regulators that will help speed up future vaccine relaunch.

Analysts at Evercore ISI said data from Qatar on another recent variant showed a high level of initial efficacy by current vaccines that faded significantly four months after dosing.

Johnson and Johnson said it is also closely monitoring emerging strains of COVID-19 and is testing the effectiveness of its shot against the new variant.

Australian Associated Press