CEO BioNTech 'Confident' COVID-19 Vaccine Can Work on UK Variant

CEO BioNTech cautions premature optimism, but claims the vaccine is 'highly likely' to work.
Brad Bergan

The German pharmaceutical company BioNTech has "scientific confidence" its COVID-19 vaccine will work on the new variant, according to an initial report from The Telegraph.

The variant of the virus has shown signs of higher transmissibility, forcing U.K. authorities to impose strict lockdown measures, and other European countries to impose travel bans on the nation.


BioNTech CEO 'confident' COVID-19 vaccine works on variant

The coronavirus variant was detected mostly in London and England's southeast region in recent weeks, and has caused widespread concern because it may be more transmissible than earlier variants. It remains to be seen whether the new strain is linked to more serious cases of the COVID-19 illness, but several European countries have already restricted travel from the U.K.

"We don't know at the moment if our vaccine is also able to provide protection against this new variant," said BioNTech CEO Ugur Sahin during a news conference, one day after the vaccine received approval for use in the European Union, AP News reports. "But scientifically, it is highly likely that the immune response by this vaccine can also deal with the new virus variants.

UPDATE Dec. 22, 11:30 AM EST: BioNTech vaccine would need '6 weeks' to adjust to variant, if resistant

Sahin also said proteins composing the U.K. variant of the COVID-19 coronavirus are 99% identical to the ones on predominant strains — which lends credibility to BioNTech's claim of "scientific confidence" in its vaccine's effectiveness.

"But we will know it only if the experiment is done and we will need about two weeks from now to get the data," said Sahin. "The likelihood that our vaccine works ... is relatively high."

If the vaccine requires an adjustment to retain its effectiveness against the COVID-19 variant, the company could execute this within roughly six weeks, explained Sahin. But regulators might need to give further approval to the changes before new vaccines may ship out for public use.

UPDATE Dec. 22, 11:40 AM EST: Hundreds of thousands already injected with COVID-19 vaccine

A need to adjust BioNTech's COVID-19 vaccine would take the stride out of the rapid rollout of immunization campaigns, along with the global effort to curb the pandemic — which has killed more than 1.7 million people around the world.

BioNTech's vaccine was developed in collaboration with U.S. pharmaceutical firm Pfizer, and is already authorized for use in more than 45 countries — including the U.K., the U.S., and the E.U. As of writing, hundreds of thousands of people have already received the vaccine.

UPDATE Dec. 22, 11:50 AM EST: Two hundred million additional vaccine doses ordered for EU, 100 million available

The vaccine has shown a 95% effectiveness rate in preventing COVID-19 infection. "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 Chief Commerce Officer of BioNTech, Sean Marett, AP News reports.