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Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

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Photo: Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

BioNTech CEO Ugur Sahin told the Financial Times his company could produce a new vaccine to combat mutations of COVID-19 within six weeks using the technology from its current vaccine, which was developed with Pfizer.

Driving the news: Concerns have mounted after the U.K. and World Health Organization said they have identified a new variant of COVID-19 in England that appears to be 70% more transmissible. U.S. officials have said the chances the new strain will make current vaccines less effective are "extremely low."

  • Sahin said it would take two weeks to definitively prove in the laboratory whether the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine would still work as effectively on the new strain.
  • But if not, "the beauty of the messenger mRNA technology is we can directly start to engineer a vaccine that completely mimics this new mutation and we could manufacture a new vaccine within six weeks,” Sahin told the FT.

How it works: The new variant has multiple mutations, but most of the sites that trigger immune response have not mutated, Sahin said.

  • “[This] makes us confident that the T cell response will still work, but we need to do experiments to quantify how well it works," he added.
  • “In principle, what we would do is change the insert [of the vaccine] and replace a virus variant with another variant without touching the platform,” said BioNTech chief medical officer Ozlem Tureci.
  • The speed of the rollout would then be up to regulators.

The state of play: Distribution of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has already been begun in the U.S., U.K., Canada and Israel. The European Commission granted authorization for the vaccine on Monday.

Go deeper ... The coronavirus mutation in the U.K.: What you need to know

Go deeper

Jan 29, 2021 - Health

WHO says most pregnant women can now receive coronavirus vaccine

A doctor administering Moderna's coronavirus vaccine at a university hospital in Essen, Germany, on Jan. 18. Photo: Lukas Schulze/Getty Images

The World Health Organization has altered its guidance for pregnant women who wish to receive the coronavirus vaccine, saying now that those at high risk of exposure to the COVID-19 or who have comorbidities that increase their risk of severe disease, may be vaccinated.

Why it matters: The WHO drew backlash for its previous guidance that did not recommend pregnant women be inoculated with vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna, even though data indicated that pregnancy increased the risk of developing severe illness from the virus.

Jan 29, 2021 - World

EU grants conditional approval of AstraZeneca vaccine

Photo: Sunil Ghosh/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

The European Commission on Friday granted conditional approval of the Oxford-AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine for people 18 years and older.

Why it matters: This is the third vaccine to receive approval from the commission, coming hours after the Emergency Medicines Agency recommended its authorization.

Jan 30, 2021 - World

Germany to impose travel restrictions to curb spread of coronavirus variants

Border police officers check passports and COVID-19 tests at Frankfurt Airport. Photo: Thomas Lohnes via Getty Images

Germany announced Friday that it was imposing new travel restrictions in an effort to curb the spread of more contagious coronavirus variants.

Details: All non-German residents traveling from countries deemed "areas of variant concern," including the United Kingdom, South Africa, Portugal, Ireland, Brazil, Lesotho and Eswatini, will be banned from entering the country, even if they test negative for the coronavirus.

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