COVID-19 vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna work against the variant that emerged in India – known as B.1.617 – and drove its catastrophic recent surge, according to a new study from New York University.
Both of the mRNA vaccines will neutralize the variant’s spike protein, the infectious surface part of the virus that lets it invade human cells, despite a concerning mutation.
This study indicates ‘another very strong reason why we should be getting vaccinated,’ Dr Anthony Fauci said during a Tuesday White House press briefing, where he presented the findings.
While the B.1.617 variant is more contagious and may be outcompeting other variants elsewhere in the world, the U.S. should be able to beat it through continued vaccination.
B.1.617, the variant from India, makes up a tiny share of U.S. cases right now – but it may be able to outcompete other variants
The U.S. reported its first case of B.1.617, the variant that emerged in India, in early April. Stanford researchers found this variant in northern California.
Since then, cases have been detected in Iowa, Nevada, and other states. Several of these cases are linked to international travel – causing the Biden administration to ban travel from India.
Some of these variant cases were identified in Americans who had not recently traveled, however – indicating that the B.1.617 variant is already spreading through U.S. communities.
According to the CDC, the B.1.617 variant makes up an estimated 0.7 percent of cases in the U.S. as of April 24. Modeling estimates put the variant at an estimated 1.1 percent as of May 8.
Since variant data are always reported with a delay, the true number of B.1.617 cases in the country may be higher – especially in the states where these cases have been reported so far.
The World Health Organization classified this variant as a ‘variant of concern’ on May 10. The WHO said this variant has a higher rate of transmission – meaning it can spread more quickly and easily from person to person.
B.1.617 has outcompeted other variants in India, including B.1.1.7 (the variant from the UK). This new variant has mutations in its spike protein that allows it to more easily enter new cells.
Early evidence about B.1.617 and a related variant, B.1.618 – which also emerged in India – also suggested that vaccines and other common COVID treatments may not work against these strains.
But we now have good news: the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines already in use in the U.S. work well against this concerning variant.
Pfizer’s vaccine (BNT162b2) and Moderna’s vaccine (mRNA1273) are both able to neutralize the spike proteins on the B.1.617 and B.1.618 variants
Dr Fauci described the latest scientific evidence at a White House COVID briefing this morning. Several studies within the last week have shown that the vaccines will trigger an immune system response if faced with the B.1.617 variant, just as they do when faced with older strains of the coronavirus.
In the most recent study cited by Dr Fauci, researchers at NYU analyzed B.1.617’s mutated spike protein. This study was published as a preprint on May 16 and has not yet been peer reviewed.
The NYU researchers found that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines both neutralize spike proteins from B.1.617 and B.1.618. While these neutralizing responses are not as strong as they would be against older coronavirus strains, the vaccines still provide much more protection than a prior coronavirus infection would.
The results show that the vaccines are ‘well within the cushion effect of the capability to protect against infection and certainly against serious disease’ from B.1.617, Dr Fauci said.
This study also shows that a monoclonal antibody treatment from Regeneron – which has commonly been used to treat severe COVID patients in the U.S – will work against B.1.617 and B.1.618.
Almost half of the U.S. population has received at least one dose of a COVID vaccine, which protects against new variants
Vaccinations have slowed in recent weeks, but remain at a rate of 1.5 to 2 million doses a day
Dr Fauci said the NYU study provides ‘another very strong reason why we should be getting vaccinated.’
Vaccination protects you from contracting a severe case of COVID or dying from the disease – and it also makes you much less likely to spread the virus to others – even if you come into contact with a variant. That goes for variants from the UK, India, and other parts of the world.
As of May 18, 60 percent of US adults have had at least one vaccine dose and 48 percent are fully vaccinated.
This is only 10 percentage points away from President Biden’s goal: 70 percent of American adults fully vaccinated by July 4.
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