Pfizer and Moderna have begun testing their respective COVID-19 vaccines to see if they are effective against the new strain of the coronavirus that is spreading quickly across the United Kingdom and other countries.
“Based on the data to date, we expect that the Moderna vaccine-induced immunity would be protective against the variants recently described in the UK,” Moderna said in a statement.
“We will be performing additional tests in the coming weeks to confirm this expectation.”
Pfizer, meanwhile, has announced that it is “generating data” on how well blood samples from people already inoculated with its vaccine “may be able to neutralize the new strain from the UK.”
Both companies stated that they have found that their vaccines, which are the only two coronavirus vaccines that have been authorized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, worked against other variations of the virus in past studies.
“So far, even though we’ve seen a number of changes and a number of mutations, none has made a significant impact on either the susceptibility of the virus to any of the currently used therapeutics, drugs, or the vaccines under development, and one hopes that that will continue to be the case,” WHO chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan said in a press briefing.
UK officials have asserted that the newly rolled out coronavirus vaccines appear to be just as effective against the new strain—but did caution that more research is needed.
England’s Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty and Chief Scientific Adviser Patrick Vallance said that there was no evidence to suggest that the new virus strain is more deadly. Whitty did warn, however, that the virus “can spread more quickly” and was responsible for 60 percent of new infections in the capital city, which have nearly doubled within the past week.
“Given that we’re entering a period of inevitable mixing, I think there will be some increases in numbers over the next few weeks,” Vallance said in a press briefing Monday.
The variant has not been identified in the United States, but the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a Tuesday briefing that “given the small fraction of U.S. infections that have been sequenced, the variant could already be in the United States without having been detected.”
“When you have this amount of spread within a place like the UK, you really need to assume that it’s here already. . . . It certainly is not the dominant strain, but I would certainly not be surprised at all if it is already here,” the nation’s top infectious disease expert said Tuesday in an interview on ABC’s Good Morning America.
Former FDA chief Dr. Scott Gottlieb shared similar sentiments on CNBC’s The News with Shepard Smith.
“I don’t think a travel ban, at this point, is going to prevent this mutated strain from coming into the United States. We’re going to have an epidemic that continues to build over the course of the next three or four weeks, we’ll reach a peak, and then we’ll start to see infection rates decline as we see vaccinations get rolled out,” he said.
“As the virus continues to spread around the world, we’re going to start to see more of these variants, and that’s why it’s important to get the population vaccinated and snuff out these infections. The more infections you have, the more chances that these variants start to propagate.”
Ethen Kim Lieser is a Minneapolis-based Science and Tech Editor who has held posts at Google, The Korea Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, AsianWeek, and Arirang TV. Follow or contact him on LinkedIn.