Pfizer says lab test indicates diminished antibody response by its COVID-19 vaccine to South Africa variant

A laboratory study from Pfizer Inc/BioNTech suggests that the company’s current COVID-19 vaccine may generate a significantly less robust antibody response against the South Africa variant of the coronavirus. 

According to the in vitro study published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), lab results "indicated a reduction in neutralization," of the virus.

"This finding is consistent with recent reports of the neutralization of variant SARS-CoV-2," Pfizer wrote in a news release published Wednesday. 

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Researchers analyzed blood from people who had taken the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine and identified a two-thirds reduction in the level of neutralizing COVID-19 antibodies to the South Africa variant. 

This was compared with the most common variant of the virus prevalent in the U.S. 

Researchers from Pfizer and BioNTech said it remains unclear what effect the diminished immune response to the South Africa variant has on the vaccine’s overall protection from the virus. 

"It is unclear what effect a reduction in neutralization by approximately two-thirds would have on BNT162b2-elicited protection from Covid-19 caused by the B.1.351 lineage of SARS-CoV-2," researchers wrote.

Despite the results of the in vitro lab test, the company said that there is still no clinical evidence from human trials that the South African mutation reduces the overall protection of the vaccine. 

The company said it is currently making investments and engaging in conversations with regulators to prepare for the possibility that a COVID-19 strain may significantly reduce the effectiveness of its outgoing vaccines. 

This story was reported from Los Angeles.