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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

Tina Reed, author of Vitals
10 hours ago - Health

Nursing homes' vaccine challenge

Resident Douglass Tozzini gets his mask adjusted by caregiver Joseph Salazar at Gordon Manor assisted-care facility in Redwood City, Calif. on Thursday, Jan. 28, 2021. Photo: Gabrielle Lurie/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

It's becoming more urgent to vaccinate the staff that care for vulnerable nursing home patients. But the industry, which has been plagued with workforce issues, faces a major challenge when it comes to mandating shots, the New York Times reports.

By the numbers: Nursing homes had seen major drops in infections after becoming one of the major hotspots for cases and deaths earlier on in the pandemic. But those numbers have reversed in recent weeks, CDC data shows.

23 hours ago - Health

Illinois announces mask mandate for schools, vaccinations for state workers

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker. Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) announced Wednesday that the state would institute a mask mandate for preschool through high school students and staff and a vaccine mandate for some state employees.

Why it matters: The move comes as surging COVID-19 cases driven by the Delta variant in Illinois have led to rising hospitalization, ICU occupancy and ventilator use rates, per the governor's press release.

22 hours ago - Health

World surpasses 200 million COVID cases

A woman in Gurugram, India get a COVID-19 vaccine dose. Photo: Vipin Kumar/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

The number of COVID-19 infections worldwide topped 200 million on Wednesday, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.

Why it matters: The milestone highlights the effect of the highly contagious Delta variant. It took about a year for the world to reach 100 million cases, and only six months to double that, the New York Times reported.

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