BERLIN (AP) — German pharmaceutical company BioNTech is confident its coronavirus vaccine works against the new UK version , but additional studies are needed to be wholly certain, its chief executive said Tuesday.
The variant, detected mainly in London and the southeast of England in recent months, has ignited concern worldwide due to signs that it may spread more easily. While there’s absolutely no indication it causes more critical illness, numerous countries in Europe and beyond have limited travel from the UK as a outcome.
“We don’t know at the moment if our vaccine is also able to provide protection against this new variant,” CEO Ugur Sahin told a news conference the day after the vaccine was approved for use in the European Union. “But scientifically, it is highly likely that the immune response by this vaccine also can deal with the new virus variants.”
Sahin said that the proteins on the UK variant are 99percent exactly the same as on the prevailing breeds, and consequently BioNTech has”scientific confidence” that its own vaccine will succeed.
“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 have to be corrected for the new variant the corporation can do so in about 6 months, Sahin said, though authorities might need to approve the changes before the shots may be used.
Having to adjust the vaccine could be a setback for its rollout of immunization campaigns and the attempt to rein in the pandemic which has thus far killed over 1.7 million individuals worldwide.
BioNTech’s vaccine, which was developed together with U.S. pharmaceutical company Pfizer, was authorized for use in more than 45 countries such as Britain, the United States and the EU. Thousands and thousands of individuals have received the shots.
The firms submitted data to labs demonstrating the vaccine, which goes by the brand name COMIRNATY in Europe, is 95% successful in preventing disease with COVID-19.
“All countries across the EU that have requested doses will receive them in the next five days, the very initial supply, and that will be followed up next week with further supplies,” said Sean Marett, BioNTech’s chief commercial officer.
The company is distributing super-cooled batches of vaccine round the 27-country bloc by truck and plane from a Pfizer plant in Belgium. The EU has ordered 200 million doses of the vaccine, with an option of 100 million more.
Marett stated BioNTech is examining ways to deliver more than the 1.3 billion doses currently planned worldwide for 2021.
“As BioNTech we’re always interested in looking at facilities that could help boost up production next year,” he told The Associated Press, citing the recent acquisition of a plant in Germany by Novartis. “We would be looking to do very quick transactions if we can.”
BioNTech anticipates requirement for COVID vaccines to continue later on.
“This virus is not going to go away,” Marett told The AP. “It’ll be there at least for the next decade, and therefore it’s important that if people so choose, they should get vaccinated.”
It’s also still unclear how long the immunity conferred by a vaccine lasts.
“It’s quite possible that we will need to give a booster injection,” Marett stated. “So a repeat injection, maybe as frequently as one year, maybe every two years. We don’t know yet.”
Several EU nations have stated they intend to start vaccinating on Sunday. Germany’s health minister, Jens Spahn, said that he expects the nation to get more than 1.3 million doses by the end of this season.
Germany is one of the European countries that have prohibited flights in the U.K. due to the new variant there.
“We want to avoid for as long as we can that a possibly dangerous virus variant spreads to continental Europe,” said Spahn.
But Lothar Wieler, the head of Germany’s federal disease control center, said it was quite likely the U.K. version is already circulating in Germany.
Wieler, who heads the Robert Koch Institute, said it had been common for viruses’ genetic material to change, and that can affect how transmissible they are.
“Whether that is really true with the version in England isn’t yet entirely clear,” Wieler said. “What is clear is that the more widely viruses spread, the greater chance they must change.”
A leading German virologist who was initially skeptical about reports that the strain was much more contagious voiced concern after seeing further data. Christian Drosten, a professor of virology at Berlin’s Charite hospital, tweeted that”regrettably it does not look good.”
But Drosten added:”What is positive is that cases together with the mutation so far only increased in regions where the general prevalence was high or climbing. So contact decrease also works against the spread of the mutation.”
Christoph Noelting in Mainz, Germany, and Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed to this report.