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New study shows Pfizer vaccine works on coronavirus variants

We talked with a molecular epidemiologist at USF Health about how the vaccine protects against the new variants.

TAMPA, Fla — As the Pfizer vaccine is rolled out, a new study shows it works against new variants of COVID-19 discovered in the U.K. and South Africa.

We talked with Dr. Jill Roberts, a molecular epidemiologist and associate professor at USF Health. She says the results of this study are great and even though they're not peer-reviewed yet, it's exciting. 

She says the vaccine is made of "spike," so when it is injected it will make antibodies against it. But that leaves the question of: Do the antibodies still bind since COVID-19 has mutated?

According to Pfizer's study, the answer is yes.

"That is why every single year you have to get a new flu shot because it mutates to the point where it doesn't work again. So we're hopeful that so far the mutations that have occurred have been minimal, they have changed the look of the virus very very little so the immune system has been able to still react and create these antibodies that work."

She says if the vaccine doesn't work anymore, it's back to the lab to create a new one, which is done every year for the flu. 

"Because if it continues to do this and it continues to mutate, eventually it will probably land on a mutation that the vaccine doesn't work anymore in which case we'll have to go right back to the laboratory."

Every single vaccine maker has to do a study like this: Pfizer, Moderna, Novavax, Astrazeneca, they all have to go back and do the same thing. 

Dr. Roberts says the variant will be a huge issue because of how transmissible it is, but not because it didn't circumvent the vaccine.

"We can always take that mutant, take the genetics from it, make a new vaccine and make ourselves an antibody that recognizes the mutant. So the technology we've already developed can be used over and over again to create more and more new vaccines," she said.

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