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Amid concerns about the faster-spreading COVID-19 strain, Pfizer and Moderna said that it is “unlikely” that their vaccines will have issues working against it

By Julie Mazziotta
Updated January 25, 2021 11:02 AM
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Coronavirus Vaccine Pfizer BioNTech
Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine
| Credit: Vincent Kalut / Photonews via Getty Images

Amid concerns about new, faster-spreading COVID-19 strains, researchers at both Pfizer and Moderna have said that their vaccines should still be effective at fighting the virus.

The new COVID-19 variant, B.1.1.7, emerged in the United Kingdom soon after the Food and Drug Administration approved Pfizer and Moderna's vaccines and distribution began around the country, leaving people concerned that the vaccine would not work against the strain. But studies from both pharmaceutical companies have said that it is "unlikely" that there will be any issues.

The Pfizer study, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, tested a small number of blood samples from people who have been fully vaccinated with the Pfizer vaccine against a synthetic version of the new strain.

The researchers said that the antibodies produced by the vaccine were effective in "neutralizing" the strain, "making it unlikely that the B.1.1.7 lineage will escape" and resist the vaccine.

And on Jan. 25, Moderna released the results from their study, which showed that their vaccine will be effective against the B.1.1.7 variant and another faster-spreading strain that has emerged in South Africa. The strain from South Africa, though, had a more diminished immune response and Moderna is now formulating and testing a booster shot than could be added to fight the variant.

"The virus is changing its stripes, and we will change to make sure we can beat the virus where it's going," Stephen Hoge, president of Moderna, told the Washington Post. "The unknown is would we feel it's necessary to do that, would public health officials want this at that point or would they still be comfortable? What we're trying to do is create an option."

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The results, while preliminary, assuaged fears that the vaccine will not work or will need to be reformulated. They also come as the new strain begins to take hold in the U.S. As of Jan. 22, the Centers for Disease Control has identified 195 cases with the B.1.1.7 lineage, although officials at the federal health agency believe that the actual number of cases is higher and growing.  

The CDC said Jan. 15 that it expects the B.1.1.7 strain to become the dominant COVID-19 variant by March, potentially driving infections and deaths higher at a time when they are already well out of control in the U.S.

As of Jan. 25, just over one year since the first U.S. case was reported, more than 25,177,500 Americans have tested positive for COVID-19, and at least 419,207 people have died from the virus, according to The New York Times.

To combat the virus and the new strain, the CDC urged Americans to continue to COVID-19 safety precautions like mask-wearing and social distancing, and to get vaccinated as soon as possible.

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