BioNTech SE has begun studying the new Covid-19 variant that has emerged in southern Africa and expects the first data from laboratory tests about how it interacts with its vaccine within two weeks.
The lab data will shed light on whether the new variant, called B.1.1.529, can elude the vaccine it makes together with Pfizer Inc., the German biotech said on Friday. Pfizer and BioNTech put plans in place months ago to be able to ship a new version of their shot within 100 days if necessary, a BioNTech spokeswoman said.
“We understand the concern of experts and have immediately initiated investigations,” BioNTech said in a statement.
The new mutation is spreading rapidly in southern Africa and has raised concerns around the world, with the UK and European Union moving to temporarily ban flights and quarantine travelers from the region. The new mutation comes as many Northern Hemisphere countries — including BioNTech’s home market of Germany — are already grappling with a fourth wave of infections that threatens to overload some hospitals.
It will take weeks to understand the full impact of the variant, World Health Organisation spokesman Christian Lindmeier said Friday. An expert panel is meeting today at the WHO to decide whether the strain is a variant of concern.