PFIZER’S vaccine was able to combat the Brazilian variant of coronavirus, lab tests have shown.
Scientists tested blood from people who had been given the jab and found it was able to neutralise an engineered version similar to the P1 Covid strain.
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Pfizer said its Covid vaccine works against the Brazilian strain of coronavirusCredit: AP:Associated Press
The study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, showed the vaccine’s ability to tackle the variant was equivalent to the effect on the original Covid strain from last year.
It’s hoped the findings from Pfizer/BioNTech and the University of Texas Medical Branch will quell concerns about the variant, which first emerged in the Brazilian city of Manaus.
The variant is believed to be more contagious as it contains a mutation that makes it capable of neutralising antibodies – and causing reinfection.
JABS A GOOD’UN
Last week, AstraZeneca was reported to have discovered its jab also works against the Brazil variant.
Preliminary data, yet to be made public, reportedly show that the Oxford jab doesn’t need to be modified to protect against the strain.
The leaked report did not provide the exact efficacy of the vaccine against the variant and the full results would likely be published later this month.
What is the P1 Brazilian variant?
THE BRAZILIAN variant (P.1) carries three key mutations that affect the spike protein.
The spike protein is the part of the virus, SARS-Cov-2, that attaches to human cells and allows the virus to infect the body.
As a result, it is the part of the virus that the Covid vaccines are designed to target.
That’s why scientists believe while the jabs should still work, they could be less effective against the Brazilian and South African strains.
Experts first detected the P.1 variant in Manaus, north Brazil, in December.
It is not yet known if the mutation causes more severe Covid-19, but evidence suggests it may be more transmissible.
Porton Down scientists are conducting more analysis to confirm evidence that indicates the strain does not cause any higher mortality rate or that it affects the vaccines or treatments.
It was detected in Brazil and in travellers from Brazil to Japan, and contains a unique constellation of lineage defining mutations.
Like the South African variant, the Brazilian one carries a mutation in the spike protein called E484K, which is not present in the original UK strain, or the widely circulating Kent strain.
The E484K mutation is present in the South African and Bristol strains.
The E484K mutation is thought to help the virus bypass the immune protection provided by prior infection or vaccination through antibodies.
Scientists analysing the Brazilian variant say the mutations it shares with the South African variant seem to be associated with a rapid increase in cases in locations where previous attack rates are thought to be very high.
They say it is therefore essential to rapidly investigate whether there is an increased rate of re-infection in previously exposed individuals.
It comes after a mystery Brit infected with the P1 variant was finally tracked down, officials revealed on Friday.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock urged the person to come forward earlier this week after five other cases of the mutation were identified in the UK.
Two are from one household in South Gloucestershire with a history of travel to Brazil, while three cases were identified in north-east Scotland.
Ministers stressed there was no wider threat to the public – and there is not community transmission of the new variant.
Brits living in five postcodes where the Brazilian variant has been found have been told to get tested.
Experts are concerned about this particular variation as it’s feared it may be capable of getting around the current batch of vaccines.
Like the South African variant, P1 carries a mutation in the spike protein called E484K which has been “associated with escape from neutralising antibodies”.
That means it may be able to evade parts of the body’s natural defence memory that bestows immunity.
A study this week found that between 25 per cent and 61 per cent of people in Manaus were susceptible to reinfection with the worrying P1 strain.
While research by the University of São Paulo, in collaboration with British universities, shows the variant is between 40 per cent and 120 per cent more transmissible.
The variant also appeared to have a higher death toll in those who caught it in Manaus.
The Brazilian ‘variant of concern’ also carries the N501Y mutation in its spike protein, which features in the highly transmissible UK variant.
Pfizer/BioNTech have said their vaccine worked against the N501Y mutation found in the UK and Brazilian variants.
However, the variant first identified in South Africa may reduce protective antibodies elicited by the US jab.
Pfizer said it believes it current vaccine is still highly likely to protect against the variant but it’s planning to test a third booster dose.
It is also working on a version retooled specifically to combat the variant in order to better understand the immune response.
Vaccine manufacturers are working on updated vaccines to tackle variants, which could be fast-tracked for approval by the autumn.
The UK regulator said yesterday that Covid vaccines designed to fight variants will be fast tracked for approval.
The approach will follow a similar process as the annual flu vaccine, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) said.
Scientists modify the influenza jab to deal with new strains every year without the need for new approval.
Experts have previously said a vaccine-resistant Covid variant is likely to emerge at some point – but jabs can also be adapted quickly.
It comes after a Public Health England study revealed that just one Covid jab slashes the risk of older Brits dying by 85 per cent.