BioNTech: ‘No evidence’ COVID vaccine needs adapting for variants

The German company says the shot it developed with US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer does not require modifications for now.

BioNTech and Pfizer's vaccine was the first to be widely used against COVID-19, following speedy authorisation in several Western nations [File: Stephane Mahe/Reuters]

German company BioNTech has said its COVID-19 vaccine, developed in collaboration with pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, does not require modifications to protect people against key variants of the virus currently in circulation.

“To date, there is no evidence that an adaptation of BioNTech’s current COVID-19 vaccine against key identified emerging variants is necessary,” the company said in a statement on Monday.

It added that it had nevertheless developed “a comprehensive strategy to address these variants should the need arise in the future”.

To prepare for a potential need to tweak the current vaccine, BioNTech said it began tests in March on a “modified, variant-specific version” of its shot.

“The aim of this study is to explore the regulatory pathway that BioNTech and Pfizer would pursue if SARS-CoV-2 were to change enough to require an updated vaccine,” it said.

Meanwhile, an assessment is also ongoing on the effect of a possible third dose of the vaccine in prolonging immunity and in protecting against variants.

BioNTech Chief Executive Ugur Sahin had earlier expressed confidence it works against the coronavirus variant first detected in India, formally known as B.1.617.

BioNTech’s statement on Monday followed studies last week showing the vaccine it produced with the United States-based Pfizer is highly effective at protecting recipients from the severe disease caused by two dangerous variants of the coronavirus first detected in the United Kingdom and South Africa respectively – B.1.1.7 and B.1.351.

Previous research has indicated the shot is also able to neutralise the highly infectious P1 strain of coronavirus originally identified in Brazil.

The BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine was the first to be widely used against COVID-19, following speedy authorisation in several Western nations.

It has since been deployed in dozens of countries worldwide, with orders for approximately 1.8 billion doses signed for this year.

Like rival shots produced by Moderna, the vaccine uses mRNA technology to prime the body’s immune system to attack the coronavirus.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies