Studies show Pfizer, Moderna vaccines could have reduced protection against South Africa variant

Studies have shown that the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines could have reduced protection against the more contagious variant first discovered in South Africa, prompting concerns about the effectiveness of the vaccines against the strain.

Reports to the New England Journal of Medicine indicated that the two vaccines currently available in the U.S. had decreased antibody protection when going up against mutations found in the South African strain, Reuters reported. But both studies showed the vaccines appeared to generate enough antibody response to neutralize the COVID-19 virus.

The studies used genetically engineered types of the virus against the blood samples from those who had already been vaccinated, The Washington Post reported.

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The Pfizer study determined that when fighting the South African variant about a third of its antibodies were activated compared to when combating an original strain. 

For the Moderna vaccine, researchers found a sixfold decrease in antibody response against the variant first found in South Africa, according to Reuters. But the study indicated that the effectiveness of the Moderna vaccine against the strain was not yet known.

It is unclear if the reduced antibody response will make the vaccines ineffective against the B.1.351 strain as it is currently unknown what level of neutralization is needed to combat the virus.

Pfizer in a statement said the company was “taking the necessary steps ... to develop and seek authorization” for an updated or booster vaccine to help people battle the South African variant.