BioNTech chief executive ‘confident’ Pfizer Covid vaccine works against new coronavirus strain

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The co-creator of the first coronavirus vaccine to be rolled out across the UK has said he is “confident” the jab works against the new mutant strain of the disease.

BioNTech chief executive Ugur Sahin admitted further studies were needed to be completely sure of the shot’s efficacy against the virus variant, but said evidence suggests it should continue to protect recipients against Covid-19.

Prof Sahin conceded on Tuesday: “We don’t know at the moment if our vaccine is also able to provide protection against this new variant.”

However, because the proteins in the mutation are 99 per cent the same as the prevailing strains, the German pharmaceutical firm has “scientific confidence” in its vaccine.

The jab, developed together with US company Pfizer, is authorised for use in more than 45 countries including the UK, the US and across the EU.

Other candidates, including the vaccine developed by Oxford Universtity and AstraZeneca, look set to get the green light within days. It is not yet clear how they respond to the new strain.

Prof Sahin said his company is currently conducting further studies into the jab’s effectiveness against the variant and they hope to have certainty within the coming weeks.

“The likelihood that our vaccine works… is relatively high,” he added.

His assessment comes after Professor Neil Ferguson, a scientist on the Government’s New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats advisory group (NervTag), said that the latest estimates were that the virus could be between 50 per cent to 70 per cent more transmissible than other virus variants.

The expert from Imperial College London added that NervTag now had “high confidence” there is a substantial increase in transmission, but uncertainty around the figures meant it had not pinned a final number on it.

He also said the virus has spread to other parts of the country, with Susan Hopkins, of Public Health England saying a hotspot in Cumbria was being investigated.

Prof Ferguson said what happens with current restrictions in the country will inform policy on future measures.

Speaking at a Science Media Centre press briefing on Monday, Prof Ferguson said: “What we see happen in the next two weeks when the country is quite close to lockdown and schools are closed and the areas with the highest frequency of this virus are in Tier 4, which is basically equivalent to the last lockdown, what happens to the virus in that period and what happens to it in other areas which are still in Tiers 3 and 2 will inform policy going forward.”

Asked whether the new variant may become the dominant one in the UK, Prof Ferguson said: “I think it’s highly likely to, from the trends we’ve seen so far, and how it’s spread in the areas which got infected first.

“Of course making predictions is a dangerous thing.”

Prof Ferguson said his best assessment is that the virus will decline over the next two weeks for both the variant and non-variant.

He explained: “Contact rates tend to be lower over Christmas with the tightening of Christmas measures and Tier4 for in place in the highest areas.

“I would hope certainly to be seeing virus decrease.

“If we do that will give us some sense of the level of controls which need to be in place, the real question then is, how much are we able to relax measures in the new year, and still retain control.”

Data indicates the variant may be able to better spread among youngsters than other strains, but NervTag said analysis is still ongoing.

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