BioNTech vaccine will work against new COVID-19 virus strain: CEO

By Rahul Vaimal, Associate Editor
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German pharmaceutical company BioNTech is certain that its coronavirus vaccine, made in collaboration with US-based Pfizer, works against the latest UK strain, but further studies are needed to be completely sure, its chief executive said.

The variant, found in recent weeks predominantly in London and the southeast of England, has ignited worldwide concern because of indications that it may spread more easily. Although there is no evidence that it causes more chronic infections, many countries in Europe and beyond have restricted travel from the UK.

“We don’t know at the moment if our vaccine is also able to provide protection against this new variant,” Ugur Sahin said. “But scientifically, it is highly likely that the immune response by this vaccine also can deal with the new virus variants.”

Mr. Sahin said that the proteins on the UK variant are 99 percent the same as on the prevailing strains, and therefore BioNTech has “scientific confidence” that its vaccine will be effective.

“But we will know it only if the experiment is done and we will need about two weeks from now to get the data,” he said. “The likelihood that our vaccine works is relatively high.”

Should the vaccine need to be adjusted for the new variant the company could do so in about 6 weeks, said Mr. Sahin, though regulators might have to approve the changes before the shots can be used.

BioNTech’s vaccine is authorized for use in more than 45 countries including Britain, the United States, Bahrain and the EU. The vaccine was the first in the world to be approved for mass inoculation but the need to store it at -70 degree Celsius poses a major challenge to countries without such facilities.