BioNTech CEO says vaccine up to 75% effective against India variant

May 21, 2021 - 1:36 PM
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General view shows the laboratories of BioNTech at their COVID-19 vaccine production facility as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, in Marburg, Germany, March 27, 2021. (Reuters/Kai Pfaffenbach/File Photo)

ISTANBUL — BioNTech SE Chief Executive Ugur Sahin said on Thursday the COVID-19 vaccine it developed with Pfizer Inc is expected to be 70% to 75% effective in protecting against infections caused by the coronavirus variant first detected in India.

“So far we’ve had the chance to test our vaccine against more than 30 variants of the virus. It has proven effective against mutations so far,” said Sahin, a German scientist with Turkish parents, speaking Turkish in televised comments.

Tests this week have focused on the India variant, he said. “We expect (our vaccine) to protect against infections by 70% to 75%,” he said after virtually attending the Turkish government’s science council meeting.

Since the concerning COVID-19 variant, known as B.1.617.2, was first identified in India, it has ravaged that country and spread to at least 26 nations out of the 53 in the World Health Organization’s (WHO) European Region, the organization said.

The WHO’s regional director said on Thursday COVID-19 vaccines being deployed in Europe, including the Pfizer/BioNTech shot, appear able to protect against circulating virus variants that have caused concern because they are more easily transmitted.

Sahin was speaking with Turkish Health Minister Fehrettin Koca, who separately said the country recorded less than 10,000 daily new coronavirus cases for the first time since March 1.

Turkey, which briefly was second globally last month in new infections, is using the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine as well as China’s Sinovac Biotech shot in its vaccination program.

A BioNTech spokeswoman said lab tests show that when the blood of vaccinated people is exposed to the Indian variant, 25% to 30% fewer antibodies were binding to the virus than would have been the case with the original coronavirus.

That suggests protection against the variant, whether symptomatic or not, is a bit lower but still 70% to 75%.

It is about 95% effective against the original version of the virus.

—Reporting by Ece Toksabay and Jonathan Spicer; Additional reporting by Ludwig Burger in Berlin; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Bill Berkrot