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Pfizer's Covid-19 vaccine appears to work against mutation in new coronavirus strains, study finds

CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta looks at the increasing number of Covid-19 cases and deaths in the United States and explains why health experts are unsure when these numbers will peak.

Posted: Jan 8, 2021 1:03 PM


A new study provides early evidence that a Covid-19 vaccine might be effective against two new coronavirus strains first identified in South Africa and the UK, despite a concerning mutation.

The two strains share a mutation known as N501Y that scientists worry could allow the virus to evade the immune protection generated by a vaccine.

In research posted online Thursday, scientists found that antibodies from people who had received the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine showed "no reduction in neutralization activity" against a version of the virus that carries the N501Y mutation, which they created in the lab.

In order to do this, researchers tested the virus against blood from 20 people who had received two doses of the vaccine as part of a clinical trial.

The N501Y mutation is located in the coronavirus' spike protein -- the same structure targeted by vaccines. The virus uses this protein to enter the cells it attacks.

This particular mutation appears to help the virus attach to human cells, which may partly explain why these new strains appear to be more transmissible. But it is just one of many mutations in both strains that scientists have worried could make the virus less susceptible to vaccines or treatments.

The study -- conducted by researchers at Pfizer and the University of Texas Medical Branch -- does not test the full array of these mutation, nor has it been peer-reviewed.

While viruses are expected to mutate -- often in ways that are neutral or even harmful to the virus -- experts say the whole is not merely the sum of the parts: Some mutations are known to interact with one another, occasionally changing the shape or function of structures like the spike protein.

"A limitation of this study is that the mutation was tested in isolation," Deborah Dunn-Walters, chair of the British Society for Immunology's taskforce on Covid-19 and immunology, said in a statement. She noted that mutations that may have a compound effect "should be tested together."

Because people usually make more than one type of antibody against a virus, experts say it's unlikely such a mutation would render the virus completely resistant to a vaccine. However, experts aren't so sure the new strains will have no impact at all.

"We will need to see actual protection from new variants in participants in the clinical trials that are still running to be sure the vaccine is equally effective," Alexander Edwards, associate professor in biomedical technology at University of Reading's school of pharmacy in the UK, said in a statement. Neither Edwards nor Dunn-Walters was involved in the new research.

If a virus is more transmissible or less susceptible to a vaccine, experts say that could also raise the bar for the number of people who would have to be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity.

In a statement last month, Pfizer said it had performed similar tests on "multiple mutant strains. To date, we have found consistent coverage of all the strains tested."

It will be important to continue "monitoring of the significance of changes for vaccine coverage," the researchers wrote in the new paper.

That's because of "the possibility that a future mutation ... might necessitate a vaccine strain change." Both Pfizer's and Moderna's vaccines use genetic technology that would allow the vaccines to be quickly adapted to account for mutations, they noted.

In a statement Friday, BioNTech said it and Pfizer "are encouraged by these early, in vitro study findings," but stressed that "further data are needed" to track the how effective the vaccine is at preventing disease caused by new variants.

Oregon Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 348766

Reported Deaths: 4161
CountyCasesDeaths
Multnomah54797689
Washington37988313
Marion36055444
Clackamas29094304
Lane26966298
Jackson22632300
Deschutes19577123
Umatilla14241144
Linn12380120
Douglas11795240
Josephine9233195
Yamhill8517110
Klamath7709110
Polk715380
Malheur551574
Benton529130
Coos489691
Columbia371343
Jefferson361450
Union313146
Lincoln310638
Wasco281540
Crook274745
Clatsop239529
Baker198028
Tillamook193328
Hood River188337
Morrow181623
Curry178122
Harney108424
Grant97612
Lake89011
Wallowa67012
Gilliam1484
Sherman1463
Wheeler991
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California Coronavirus Cases

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Cases: 4810222

Reported Deaths: 70598
CountyCasesDeaths
Los Angeles147569426398
Riverside3693444990
San Diego3636444159
San Bernardino3563155566
Orange3227415518
Sacramento1576212279
Santa Clara1445181890
Kern1441461605
Fresno1441232051
Alameda1198871372
San Joaquin1018071708
Ventura1005241164
Contra Costa99234982
Stanislaus851571315
Tulare78945951
San Francisco54031645
San Mateo53828622
Monterey50696582
Solano45761334
Santa Barbara44836521
Merced41781577
Sonoma40711402
Placer38902415
Imperial35642764
Kings32369314
San Luis Obispo29653329
Madera23518281
Butte23364260
Shasta23360334
Santa Cruz20861218
Yolo20147247
Marin17581243
El Dorado16960149
Sutter13775169
Napa12808100
Yuba994282
Tehama9298104
Humboldt9102108
Nevada903990
Mendocino752786
Lassen746346
San Benito737372
Tuolumne673993
Lake6506104
Amador537264
Siskiyou442742
Glenn430330
Calaveras381780
Del Norte356141
Colusa301718
Inyo196739
Mono16445
Plumas15756
Mariposa127315
Trinity86011
Modoc6698
Unassigned1860
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Alpine1020
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