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EU meets drug giants for rapid development of vaccines against new COVID-19 variants

Researchers say mRNA vaccines for COVID-19 may have to be updated periodically to improve clinical efficacy against the newly arising variants.

There is increasing concerns over the seemingly lower efficacy of some approved vaccines towards the new COVID-19 variants. Some immunologists say that the effectiveness of current vaccines will decrease as the coronavirus mutate further in the future.

Written by Longjam Dineshwori |Updated : February 2, 2021 9:02 AM IST

The European Union (EU) is exploring the requirements for rapid development and production of vaccines against the emerging Covid-19 variants. Top EU officials held discussions with the CEOs of the drug giants like BioNTech/Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, CureVac and Sanofi in this regard on Sunday. All these pharmaceutical companies have signed agreements with the EU for supply of COVID-19 vaccines, reported IANS.

There is increasing concerns over the seemingly lower efficacy of some approved vaccines towards the new COVID-19 variants.

The European Commission also noted in a statement that the emergence of new variants "raises the imminent threat of reduced efficacy of recently approved vaccines," stressing the need to prepare for the appearance of such variants.

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Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, EU Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides, Commissioner for the Internal Market Thierry Breton, von der Leyen's coronavirus special advisors Peter Piot and Moncef Slaoui, as well as the Executive Director of the European Medicines Agency, Emer Cook attended the video conference.

Do we need new vaccines to tackle the emerging variants?

Although the emerging COVID-19 variants is not an immediate problem, it's now time to start developing next-gen preventives to tackle them, said Immunologist Satyajit Rath from New Delhi's National Institute of Immunology.

While the first-generation vaccines will contribute to slowing the pandemic, the next-generation vaccines will help in dealing with the vaccine-resistant virus variants, he told PTI.

According to Rath, either emerging vaccine-resistant virus variants are not present or not spreading in sufficient scales and rates to cause an immediate problem.

But he stressed that the need to continue work on first generation and next-generation vaccines on parallel tracks to tackle the ongoing pandemic as well as prepare for possible mutations and new variants.

The effectiveness of current vaccines will decrease as the coronavirus will mutate further in the future, said immunologist Vineeta Bal from the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research in Pune in an interview with PTI.

Researchers have shown that some variants can infect people more easily than the original version of the novel coronavirus. A recent article in the journal Virulence also pointed that emerging virus strains, including the ones reported from the UK, South Africa and Brazil are posing a threat to vaccine effectiveness.

A study by researchers from the Rockefeller University in the US too suggested that mRNA vaccines for COVID-19 may have to be updated periodically to improve clinical efficacy against the newly arising variants.

These vaccines may work against new COVID-19variants

Moderna and Pfizer have claimed that their mRNA vaccines appear to work against some of the new COVID-19 variants.

In a small study, it was found that the antibodies triggered by Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine can recognise and fight the new, more infectious virus variants that were first found in the UK and South Africa. Another research suggested that the Pfizer vaccine can provide protection against the UK variant.

Biotechnology company Novavax recently announced that its COVID-19 vaccine candidate, NVX-CoV2373, demonstrated strong efficacy against both UK and South Africa variants in UK Phase 3 and South Africa Phase 2b clinical trials.

"NVX-CoV2373 is the first vaccine to demonstrate not only high clinical efficacy against COVID-19 but also significant clinical efficacy against both the rapidly emerging UK and South Africa variants," said Stanley C. Erck, President and Chief Executive Officer, Novavax in a press release.

NVX-CoV2373 is a protein-based vaccine candidate engineered from the genetic sequence of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 disease.

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