Thursday 18 February 2021 2:38 pm

South Africa Covid variant could cut Pfizer vaccine protection by two-thirds

The South African variant of coronavirus could cut antibody protection from the Pfizer/Biontech vaccine by two-thirds, the drugs companies have announced.

Laboratory studies by Pfizer/Biontech and scientists at the University of Texas Medical Branch said the vaccine still worked against the new mutation — also known as 501YV2.

Read more: Pfizer vaccine cuts Covid-19 transmission risk four-fold, even before second dose: study

However, they cautioned that the jab produced only a third of the antibodies when presented with the new mutation than it did for the original virus.

The study was based on lab experiments using the blood of 20 vaccine trial participants. There is currently no evidence from human trials to suggest that the variant reduces vaccine protection.

However the pharmaceutical firms said will talk to regulators about developing an updated version of their mRNA vaccine to tackle emerging Covid variants.

Scientists from the University of Texas last month said the vaccine appeared to be effective in neutralising the new B117 mutation first seen in the southeast of England.

South African scientists will meet today to discuss the latest study, amid growing concerns that the country’s dominant coronavirus strain may prove partially resistant to all available vaccines.

“I do know that our scientists will be meeting to discuss it and they will advise the minister,” health department spokesman Popo Maja said. “We are not going to be releasing a statement until advised by our scientists. We will also be guided by the regulator.”

It follows the country’s dramatic move last week to pull the plug on the Astrazeneca vaccine after studies suggested it was ineffective against the new South Africa mutation.

A raft of European countries have also limited the rollout of the Astrazeneca vaccine amid claims current data is insufficient to prove it is effective among older age groups.

Read more: Why have almost half EU countries restricted use of the Astrazeneca vaccine?

But in a major snub to both South Africa and the 11 EU countries that have restricted the jab, the World Health Organization (WHO) last week announced it was safe and effective across all age groups.

WHO leaders also said there was “significant evidence” the Astrazeneca vaccine proved effective in preventing severe disease from the South African variant.