Health
Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has not been troubled by variants so far, says CEO

Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has not been troubled by variants so far, says CEO

One of the people behind the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine says he has yet to see any evidence that emerging variants of the disease have found a way to beat it.

Dr Ugur Sahin, who founded BioNTech with his wife, Dr Özlem Türeci, told CBC News Network Power and politics today, scientists have two main concerns when it comes to variants of the COVID-19 virus.

“One concern is that some variants simply have higher infectivity and therefore it is more difficult to control the pandemic,” Sahin told guest host David Common. “The second concern is that the variants could potentially escape existing immune responses.”

To address the second concern, the BioNTech team of researchers performed tests on the vaccine’s effectiveness against individual variants.

“So far the data is really encouraging for all types of variants,” he said. “We have no evidence that our vaccine would not work against any of the common variants.”

While Sahin said he was confident his vaccine would treat existing variants, he said his company is constantly monitoring its effectiveness on newer variants “to be on the safe side.”

BioNTech is also studying the possible risks that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine could present to pregnant women.

Sahin said pregnant women had participated in vaccine trials – “mostly” women in the third trimester.

Limited data on the impacts of pregnancy

“There is no indication of an increased risk of death. But we have to see that this data is still early data,” he said. “And therefore, any decision to take the vaccine should be aligned with the doctor on the basis of a risk-benefit analysis.”

Concerns about the risk of blood clots associated with the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine have increased, with many asking whether those who have received a single injection of the AstraZeneca-Oxford product can take the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine as a second injection.

Sahin said his company does not have data to suggest the vaccine mixture is safe, but there is evidence that patients with antibodies resulting from COVID-19 infection achieve better protection once they are taking the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

Dr Ugur Sahin and Dr Özlem Türeci, founding husband and wife of coronavirus vaccine developer BioNTech, pose for a photo during an Axel Springer Award ceremony in March. (Associated Press / Bernd von Jutrczenka)

“The decision ultimately is a decision of the health facilities,” he said.

Asked about the impact of his vaccine on the global pandemic, Sahin said it was a “fantastic feeling” to know that he was helping so many people.

“We are seeing the impact of our vaccine,” he said. “We think it’s a privilege that as a scientist we have accomplished something that is good for humanity and good for our people.”

You can watch full episodes of Power & Politics at CBC Gem, CBC’s streaming service.

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