“We understand the concern of experts and have immediately initiated investigations on variant B.1.1.529. The variant differs significantly from previously observed variants as it has additional mutations located in the spike protein,” the German company said in a statement.
“We expect more data from the laboratory tests in two weeks at the latest,” read the statement noted, noting: "These data will provide more information about whether B.1.1.529 could be an escape variant that may require an adjustment of our vaccine if the variant spreads globally.”
The company said Pfizer and BioNTech took steps months ago so that they could adapt their mRNA vaccine within six weeks and carry first batches within 100 days in case of an escape variant.
“To that end, the companies have begun clinical trials with variant-specific vaccines (alpha and delta) to collect safety and tolerability data that can be provided to regulators as part of the blueprint studies in the event of a needed variant-specific vaccine,” the statement also said.
The new heavily mutated variant, which might be able to evade vaccines, was detected in Botswana on Nov. 11.
Britain suspended flights from Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe as of Friday noon.