April 26, 2021 -- The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines appear to be effective against the B.1.526 variant first identified in New York, according to studies.
The variant seems to be more contagious than the original strain and has contributed to an increase in COVID-19 cases in New York. Two recent independent studies have found that the vaccines effectively prevent serious illness and death from the variant.
“We’re not seeing big differences,” Michael Nussenzweig, an immunologist at Rockefeller University in New York, told the New York Times.
Nussenzweig and colleagues published a new paper on the bioRxiv preprint server on Thursday that found the antibodies created by the vaccines were only slightly less effective against the B.1.526 variant. They conducted lab-based experiments with blood samples from vaccinated people and observed that the spike mutations on the B.1.526 variant created only a small drop in efficacy.
The paper hasn’t yet been peer-reviewed, but the results are consistent with other studies that have tested the vaccines with other variants. More studies suggest that the two main vaccines in the U.S. — from Pfizer and Moderna — can protect against several variants, including the contagious B.1.1.7 variant first identified in the U.K. and the B.1.351 variant first identified in South Africa.
In another paper published on the bioRxiv preprint server at the end of March, researchers at New York University found that vaccine-created antibodies neutralized the B.1.526 variant and had only a minor drop in efficacy against the spike mutations.
In both studies, neutralizing antibodies from vaccinated people provided better protection against the virus than the antibodies from people with natural immunity after contracting COVID-19. Vaccine-induced antibodies appear to cover a broader range of the various parts on the virus, rather than a particular mutation, The New York Times reported. That could mean vaccines offer better protection against variants with different mutations, as opposed to immunity from natural infection linked with one particular coronavirus strain.
“The take-home message is that the vaccines are going to work against the New York variant and the South African variant and the U.K. variant,” Nathan Landau, a virologist who led the second study, told the newspaper.