Pfizer vaccine neutralizes Brazil COVID-19 variant in lab study

Coronavirus Vaccine

A medical worker fills a syringe with a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at Tokyo Medical Center in Tokyo Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021. Japan’s first coronavirus shots were given to health workers Wednesday, beginning a vaccination campaign considered crucial to holding the already delayed Tokyo Olympics. (Behrouz Mehri/Pool Photo via AP)

CHICAGO (NewsNation Now) — The Pfizer Inc and BioNTech SE coronavirus vaccine was able to neutralize a new highly contagious virus variant spreading rapidly in Brazil, according to a laboratory study published in the New England Journal of Medicine Monday.

Blood taken from people who had been given the vaccine neutralized an engineered version of the virus that contained the same mutations carried on the spike portion of the highly contagious P.1 variant first identified in Brazil, the study found.

The spike, used by the virus to enter human cells, is the primary target of many COVID-19 vaccines. The scientists said the neutralizing ability was roughly equivalent to the vaccine’s effect on a previous less contagious version of the virus from last year. The study was conducted by scientists from the companies and the University of Texas Medical Branch found.

The P.1 strain was first found in Brazilian travelers who arrived in Tokyo in early January. It appeared in Minnesota later that month and has since been identified in several other states including Oregon and Illinois. Evidence suggests that this variant can spread more easily than most currently circulating strains of COVID-19, health officials said.

The Pfizer vaccine was the first vaccine authorized for use in the United States last year. Pfizer has said it will provide the U.S. government with 100 million doses by the end of March and another 100 million by the end of May. It has promised the full 300 million doses by the end of July.

In previously published studies, Pfizer had found that its vaccine neutralized other variants first identified in the United Kingdom and South Africa, although the South African variant may reduce protective antibodies elicited by the vaccine.

Pfizer has said it believes its current vaccine is highly likely to still protect against the South African variant. Pfizer Inc said last month they are testing a third dose of their COVID-19 vaccine to better understand the immune response against new variants of the virus.

In January, Moderna said while its vaccine is effective against emerging variants that have appeared in the United Kingdom and South Africa, it would test a vaccine booster and an alerted booster against the South Africa variant. 

J&J said in January its vaccine was 66% effective against multiple variants in a global trial involving nearly 44,000 people.

About 31 million people, or 9.5% of the U.S. population, have been fully inoculated with COVID-19 vaccines made by Pfizer Inc/ BioNTech SE, Moderna Inc and Johnson & Johnson, according to CDC data. More than 18% of the U.S. population, or 60 million adults had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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