Manufacturers of America’s most widely used vaccines say they can respond quickly to the challenges of South Africa’s Now variant.
The recently emerged variant is considered the most contagious to date, with some fearing it could evade the protections offered, but the current crop of COVID-19 vaccines.
Pfizer, BioNTech and Moderna, which are responsible for manufacturing the two most common vaccines in the US, have all said they can quickly update the vaccines to protect against the emerging variant, if needed.
Although the variant has not yet been discovered in the United States, it has appeared in multiple countries in Africa and Europe, prompting US officials to be on the lookout.
CNBC’s Meg Tirell (pictured) reports that Pfizer and Moderna are both taking action to potentially update their COVID-19 vaccines as needed in the wake of the newly discovered South African virus strain
The new strain has more than 30 mutations, it is what has been described by some as a ‘constellation’
“Moderna and BioNTech and Pfizer tell us that they are already looking at this very closely and have told us that they can update the vaccines very quickly if needed” CNBCMeg Tirell said on TechCheck Friday.
Moderna can begin clinical trials for vaccines effective against a potentially resistant variant within 60 days, Tirell reports.
She also reports that Pfizer can customize its mRNA vaccine within six weeks if needed and ship a product within 100 days if needed.
“Within two weeks, BioNTech says it expects lab data will tell us if this is really an escaped variant, one that can really evade the protection of the vaccines,” she said.
According to data published Wednesday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 108 million Americans have been fully vaccinated with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and 71.5 million with the Moderna shot.
Johnson & Johnson, makers of the third vaccine available in the US, also says it is testing the effectiveness of its vaccine against this new variant.
The J&J vaccine has immunized nearly 16 million Americans, according to CDC data.
The variant comes on the heels of the Delta variant which eventually recedes in all parts of the world after causing massive increases in the number of cases in the spring and summer.
BioNTech said it will have more information about the new strain and whether vaccines against it are effective in the coming weeks. Pfizer and Moderna both report that they could receive updated vaccines in the coming months if needed. Pictured: Vials containing the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines
Due to the new character of the variant, not much is known about it yet.
However, what experts have learned so far worries them.
“What is particularly concerning about this variant is that it has more than 30 mutations on the spike protein, some of which are known and have been linked to increased transmissibility and the potential to evade protection from vaccines or previous infection” said Tirell.
“They call it an unusual constellation of mutations.
‘Yet some of these variants, their mutations are not yet known, so their effect is really not understood.
“So whether that leads to a more serious illness or a less serious illness, and that’s just not known at the moment.”
The variant may have formed in Botswana and quickly sparked a spate of cases in neighboring South Africa.
Some travelers who went from Africa to Hong Kong were also found to be infected with the variant.
In the South African province of Gauteng, which includes Johannesburg, cases have increased rapidly, particularly among young people.
Of the new variant, there are at least 77 cases of Covid in the province ravaged by the virus.
This is the second Covid variant to hit South Africa for the first time, as the beta variant was also first found in the country early last year.
Many of those infected turned out to be fully vaccinated, and the sheer number of mutations the virus undergoes to reach this variant has left experts worried that the vaccines may not be able to fight it off as well.
“A burning question is whether it reduces the effectiveness of the vaccine because there are so many changes,” Aris Katzourakis, a virologist at the University of Oxford, told Nature.