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Pfizer says vaccine works against UK, South Africa mutations

And can’t we all use some great news at this point? Pfizer’s preliminary studies against COVID-19 variants in the UK and South Africa show that their vaccine remains effective against all of them. That will come as a great relief as nations struggle to roll out vaccines to stem the retransmission tide, and it would also suggest that other mRNA vaccines would offer similar protection:

New research suggests that Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine can protect against a mutation found in two highly contagious variants of the coronavirus that erupted in Britain and South Africa. Those variants are causing global concern.

They share a common mutation called N501Y, a slight alteration on one spot of the spike protein that coats the virus. That change is believed to be the reason they can spread so easily.

Most of the COVID-19 vaccines being rolled out around the world train the body to recognize that spike protein and fight it. Pfizer teamed with researchers from the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston for laboratory tests to see if the mutation affected its vaccine’s ability to do so.

They used blood samples from 20 people who received the vaccine, made by Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech, during a large study of the shots. Antibodies from those vaccine recipients successfully fended off the virus in lab dishes, according to the study posted late Thursday on an online site for researchers.

So far, this is still preliminary. The studies have not yet been peer-reviewed, and of course Moderna needs to complete its own tests against the variants to be sure that its mRNA vaccine will remain effective. However, it’s the first organized data that suggests that these variants will not confound efforts to stem the pandemic, at least not through the vaccines already approved and on roll-out.

That’s not to say that later mutations won’t create those possibilities. As the vaccine spreads, its mutations might become profound enough to where the first round of vaccines provide less coverage against COVID-19’s effects. “This is not like the flu vaccine,” Dr. Scott Gottlieb tells CNBC, but we will probably need to update vaccines every few years to catch further mutations:

Pfizer made the same point in its own release:

Dormitzer said it was encouraging that the vaccine appears effective against the mutation, as well as 15 other mutations the company has previously tested against.

“So we’ve now tested 16 different mutations, and none of them have really had any significant impact. That’s the good news,” he said. “That doesn’t mean that the 17th won’t.” …

Scientists said the results of the study would help calm concerns that people will not be protected by vaccines being given to millions of people around the world in the fight against the pandemic, which has killed more than 1.8 million people and roiled economies.

But they cautioned that more clinical tests and data are still needed to come to a definitive conclusion.

“This is good news, mainly because it is not bad news,” said Stephen Evans, professor of pharmacoepidemiology, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.

“So, yes this is good news, but it does not yet give us total confidence that the Pfizer (or other) vaccines will definitely give protection.”

Okay, okay, so it’s good news rather than great news. It beats the alternative, at least this week.

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