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BioNTech says it could create vaccine for COVID-19 mutation ‘in six weeks’

Officials say the proteins in the more contagious version of the coronavirus are 99 percent the same

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German biotech firm BioNTech said Tuesday that it could create a vaccine for the new coronavirus variant in six weeks if necessary. 

A new, more contagious strain of COVID-19 was recently detected in Britain, prompting dozens of European countries to reinstate lockdowns and impose travel bans. Former FDA chief Dr. Scott Gottlieb now says it’s likely that the new coronavirus mutation “is already in the U.S.”

BioNTech officials say they’re confident that they fend off the new strain with a modified version of the vaccine developed for the prevailing strains that appeared at the beginning of 2020. 

"Scientifically, it is highly likely that the immune response by this vaccine also can deal with the new virus variant," said BioNTech co-founder Ugur Sahin. He added that he is optimistic that the company can quickly produce an effective vaccine for the new strain since its proteins are 99 percent the same as the original version. 

“The likelihood that our vaccine works ... is relatively high,” he said. However, until more research is carried out over the next few weeks, he said BioNTech doesn’t know “if our vaccine is also able to provide protection against this new variant.” 

Six weeks

Sahin said the company could make a vaccine to beat the mutated version of SARS-CoV-2 in less than two months, if necessary. 

"In principle the beauty of the messenger technology is that we can directly start to engineer a vaccine which completely mimics this new mutation — we could be able to provide a new vaccine technically within six weeks," he said. 

BioNTech has worked with drugmaker Pfizer this year to create a vaccine to combat the novel coronavirus that began spreading earlier this year. The vaccine has been authorized for use in more than 45 countries and is already being administered to frontline workers and nursing home residents in the U.S. 

Moderna, another company that created an effective COVID-19 vaccine, says it also believes its vaccine would have similar efficacy against the new strain. 

"Based on the data to date, we expect that the Moderna vaccine-induced immunity would be protective against the variants recently described in the UK," Moderna said in a statement adding, "We will be performing additional tests in the coming weeks to confirm this expectation."

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