KEY POINTS

  • Early studies on effectiveness against variants show promise
  • The U.S. continues to break records on deaths attributed to COVID-19
  • Do your part, health care workers say

Drugmaker Pfizer said the results of a preliminary study showcasing its COVID-19 vaccine's effectiveness against the highly contagious variants of the coronavirus are “very reassuring.” 

Variants of the coronavirus in Britain and South Africa have a modified “spike” protein coating that could be responsible for their highly contagious nature. Blood samples taken from a handful of people injected with Pfizer’s vaccine, developed in coordination with German partner BioNTech, showed the body's immune response was targeting the variants.

The study was not peer-reviewed, but Philip Dormitzer, the chief science officer at Pfizer said, as reported by the AP, “it was a very reassuring finding that at least this mutation, which was one of the ones people are most concerned about, does not seem to be a problem” for the vaccine.

Both the Pfizer vaccine and the one developed by Moderna rely on a type of novel genetic technology that scientists say can be modified quickly to adapt to viral mutations. With the new strains, Eleanor Riley, a professor of immunology at the University of Edinburgh, told Reuters that “it may be necessary to tweak the vaccine over time.”

AstraZeneca, Moderna, and CureVac are also testing whether their shots work against the COVID-19 variants.

The update from Pfizer comes after New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo pleaded with the federal government in late December to limit travel from the United Kingdom, citing concerns about the emergence of the new highly contagious variant. It has already spread, however, through several states.

CNN reports there have been over 50 cases of the COVID-19 variant in the U.S. to date, with the majority being identified in Florida and California.

In overall cases, the U.S. again this week broke a single-day record for deaths attributed to COVID-19 with nearly 3,900 recorded on Thursday, according to an AP tally.

A spike in new cases, and the various bottlenecks in the vaccination effort, are causing alarm among healthcare workers.

“I’m begging everyone to help us out because we aren’t the front line,” Dr. Jeffrey Chien, an emergency room physician at a hospital in San Jose, California, told the AP in a separate report. “We’re the last line.”

Americans are getting Pfizer and Moderna shots The U.S. has started giving people the Pfizer and Moderna shots. Photo: AFP / Brendan Smialowski