New Covid strain: Dubai’s Pfizer jab offers protection, say doctors

A preliminary study has revealed that Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine offers protection against the new strain of SARS-CoV-2, which causes novel coronavirus disease (Covid-19), according to UAE doctors.

The trend would help contain the viral outbreak, they hoped.

Pfizer-BioNTech’s Covid-19 vaccine appeared to work against a key mutation in the highly transmissible new variant of the virus and recently found in the United Kingdom (UK) and South Africa, according to the study.

The study, which is yet to be peer-reviewed, is conducted by Pfizer and scientists from the University of Texas Medical Branch, US. It indicated the vaccine was apparently effective in neutralizing the virus with the N501Y mutation of the spike protein.

The study is reassuring for the medical fraternity and communities at large.

Dr. Gunjan Mahajan, a clinical pathologist at Burjeel Hospital for Advanced Surgery, Dubai, said, “The findings from the in-vitro study conducted by Pfizer and the University of Texas are preliminary but reassuring as it indicates that the new strain of SARS-CoV 2 virus is not resistant to Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine. The neutralization activity found against isogenic viral strain developed on the genetic background of spike N501 Y mutated viral strain by Pfizer-BioNTech elicited human sera was in coherence with 15 different mutations tested earlier.”

Dr. Mahajan added: “The study revealed that due to the mRNA nature of the vaccine, an update can be made if further mutations occur in the virus. However, we would need more data to validate these findings. The study did not include the entire set of spike mutations found on rapidly spreading viral strains.

More data required to validate findings

Doctors said more data is required to validate these findings and further research would be required to monitor the efficacy of the vaccine in the new strains of the virus.

Dr. Shipra Rai, who specializes in Internal Medicine at Prime Al Qasimia Branch in Sharjah, said: “Mutations are a common occurrence with most viruses. The limitation of this study is that the mutation was tested in isolation. Mutations may have a compound effect when they are tested together. However, the viral mutation should not disrupt the vaccine drive unless further studies show that the mutation is affecting the vaccine efficacy. Early studies have shown that the new strain is still susceptible to the current vaccine. Vaccination should continue but people must continue maintaining social distancing protocols until more data is available.”

Pfizer’s vaccine uses genetic technology that allows the vaccine to quickly adapt to mutations, which have led to cautious optimism.

Dr. Rai said: “Pfizer has said in a recently released statement that it had performed similar tests on multiple mutants and they have found consistent coverage of all the strains tested. Because of the possibility of a future mutation, it may necessitate a vaccine strain change.

Dr. Adel Al Sisi, the Chief Medical Officer, and a Consultant at Intensive Care Prime Hospital in Dubai, too, weighed in on the study.

The goal of any vaccine is that your immune system should recognize the enemy. It needs to recognize the spike protein of the coronavirus. There is a unique coding of the virus in the spike protein of the vaccine. If the spike protein of the new variant is almost the same as the Pfizer vaccine, then it will offer protection,” he said.

The new viral mutations have been found to be spreading faster, but they have not been found to have severe consequences.

Dr. Abey Abraham, who specializes in Internal Medicine at Aster Clinic in Sharjah, said: “The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is said to protect against the new virus strain. It is encouraging to know that the vaccine is a protective shield. It raises hope that the pandemic could be tackled soon. The duration of the protection offered by the vaccine is being studied.

However, he urged the public to comply with precautionary measures pertaining to Covid-19.

Dr. Dana Al Jada, another specialist in internal medicine at Medcare Medical Centre in Al Rashidiya, Dubai, said: “A study in the UK was done on the two strains, where 20 people, who received the jabs, were tested on the new Covid-19 strain. The results were positive and the antibodies killed the new strain in the laboratory. It’s a small study and didn’t reflect the natural human body reactions against the infection. Scientists are conducting more studies on those who have been vaccinated and checking their immunity against the new Covid-19 strain,” Dr. Al Jada said.