The worry regarding the U.K. strain is needless, says SVB Leerink analyst Geoffrey Porges. The viral mutation known as B.1.1.7 is primarily in London and southeast of England. It’s the result of “incomplete social distancing behavior by humans,” Porges said in a report to clients.
“The B.1.1.7 strain appears to be adapted to more effective transmission but has not evolved to evade human immunity,” he said. “Such evolution would be very unlikely and unprecedented in the world of vaccinology.”
On Wednesday, coronavirus vaccine stocks were initially pummeled. Moderna stock fell as much as 8.6%, but rose 3.5% to close at 130.34. Pfizer stock, on the other hand, rose 1.9% to 37.44. BioNTech tumbled as much as 5.5%, but closed down 0.5% at 100.06. The three stocks eased on Thursday.
Coronavirus Vaccine Stocks: New Deal, Authorization
The deal with the federal government brings the total number of coronavirus vaccines from Pfizer and BioNTech up to 200 million in the U.S. All of those are expected to be delivered by July 31 — allowing for a total of 100 million vaccinations.
Under terms of the agreement, the U.S. government will pay an additional $1.95 billion for the second 100 million doses.
“With these 100 million additional doses, the United States will be able to protect more individuals and hopefully end this devastating pandemic more quickly,” Pfizer Chief Executive Albert Bourla said in a written statement.
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said in a written statement the new deal ensures the U.S. will have enough supply to vaccinate every American who wants it by June. Moderna also has an agreement with the U.S. to supply 200 million doses of its drug.
Also Wednesday, Canada’s health authority authorized Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine for people ages 18 and older. Moderna has agreed to supply Canada with 40 million doses.
Vaccine Stocks Under Pressure
Meanwhile, experts say a new U.K. variant shouldn’t elude these recently authorized coronavirus vaccines.
In virology, the more a virus replicates, the more chances it has to mutate. The replication cycle can results in viral variants, SVB Leerink’s Porges said. But the DNA is still largely the same as the original virus.
“They are like the subtle variations in a vehicle coming off a mass production line — some have minor defects, occasionally one has a major defect, some have different colors or upholstery, but they fundamentally operate the same way,” he said.
BioNTech Chief Executive Ugur Sahin noted the same during a press conference on Tuesday. The new variation just isn’t that different from the original SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19. There are only nine changed amino acids in the U.K. mutation — out of more than 1,000.
Viruses Adapt Over Time
Viral mutations adapt better over time, Porges said. This occurs due to incomplete social distancing and mask wearing, which allows more infectious strains to survive. But there has so far been little selection pressure from human immunity — either by infection or vaccination.
“By and large, it appears that two doses of the most advanced Covid vaccines confer immunity that is as great, or greater, than symptomatic natural infection,” Porges said.
For that reason, coronavirus vaccine stocks have largely surged this year. Moderna stock has soared 566% this year as of Wednesday’s close. BioNTech stock is up 195% over the same time period. Shares of Novavax (NVAX) have posted a quadruple-digit gain.
Targeting The Spike Protein
Coronavirus vaccine makers Moderna and BioNTech target the spike protein covering the outside of SARS-CoV-2. But research suggests their drugs generate immunity to a dozen or more epitopes — a type of antigen — on the spike protein itself.
“Just like natural infection, for the virus to evade vaccine-induced protection it would need to alter multiple segments of the protein (epitopes) at the same time,” Porges said. “This is not only highly unlikely, but it is inconsistent with observations with other viruses.”
In fact, research shows the drug from coronavirus vaccine stocks Pfizer and BioNTech is equally effective against some 20 variations of the virus, he said. Other viruses — like measles, influenza, polio and dengue fever — are also rapidly replicating and vaccine preventable.
“Many of these viruses are vaccine preventable and the strains of the virus infecting people have not changed materially in decades, at least not enough to evade vaccine-induced protection,” he said. “There is no reason to believe that SARS-CoV-2 is any different from these examples.”
Follow Allison Gatlin on Twitter at @IBD_AGatlin.
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