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BioNTech vaccine for new COVID-19 variant could be ready in 6 weeks

Ugur Sahin, CEO of Biontech, gestures during an interview in Mainz, Germany, Wednesday, Nov. 27, 2019.
Ugur Sahin, CEO of Biontech, gestures during an interview in Mainz, Germany, Wednesday, Nov. 27, 2019. Copyright Andreas Arnold/dpa via AP
Copyright Andreas Arnold/dpa via AP
By Euronews with AP, AFP
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The pharma company is confident that the current vaccine works against the new UK variant, but further studies are needed to be completely sure.


German pharmaceutical company BioNTech says it's still unclear whether the current vaccine will be able to provide protection against the new UK variant of COVID-19, but "scientifically, it is highly likely that the immune response by this vaccine also can deal with the new virus variants."

To learn more about the new strain, read our explainer:

Ugur Sahin, chief executive at BioNTech said further studies are needed to be sure the current vaccine works against the new strain. However, if the vaccine needs to be adjusted, the company could do so in about 6 weeks, he added.

"We have scientific confidence that the vaccine might protect, but we will know it only if the experiment is done and we will need about two weeks from now to get the data and will, of course, publish the data as soon as possible," Sahin said.

In that case, regulators may have to approve the changes again before the shots can be used.

However, the company is confident that its recently EMA-approved coronavirus vaccine works against the new UK variant.

Sahin said that the proteins on the UK variant are 99% the same as on the prevailing strains, and therefore BioNTech has "scientific confidence" that its vaccine will be effective.

The variant detected mainly in London and the southeast of England in recent weeks has sparked concern worldwide because of signs that it may spread more easily.

While there is no indication it causes more serious illness, numerous countries in Europe and beyond have restricted travel from the UK as a result.

BioNTech's vaccine, developed together with U.S. pharmaceutical company Pfizer, is authorised for use in more than 45 countries including Britain, the United States and the EU.

WHO to discuss strategy for dealing with UK variant

The European branch of the World Health Organization (WHO) will bring together its members to discuss strategies against the new variant of the coronavirus, its regional director announced on Tuesday.

WHO Europe is "monitoring the situation closely" and is keen on strategically tackling "testing, transmission reduction and risk communication," Hans Kluge, Regional Director of WHO Europe tweeted.

Concerns over spread of the UK variant

The head of Germany's disease control agency, Lothar Wieler, spoke at the Robert Koch Institute on Tuesday. In light of dramatically rising numbers of cases and deaths in Germany, he urged people to minimise social contact over the holidays.

Wieler commented on the new strain of coronavirus in the UK, saying: "We cannot yet definitively assess the significance of this for what is happening but we are monitoring it very closely. There are still many questions open."

Germany's disease control agency reported 19,528 newly confirmed infections in the past 24 hours, taking the total number of known cases since the start of the outbreak to 1,530,180.

Another 731 deaths from COVID-19 were reported in the past day, taking the total to 27,006.

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