Dr. Fauci says Covid vaccines can be easily adapted to new variants, drugmakers working on boosters

Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks during a news conference in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House in Washington, on Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021.

Al Drago | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Pfizer and Moderna‘s current Covid-19 vaccines can be easily adapted to target new strains of the virus, something the drugmakers are already working on, White House health advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci said Wednesday.

New strains of the coronavirus have emerged in the United Kingdom, South Africa and Brazil that have given scientists some cause for concern. Although it’s no surprise the virus is mutating, researchers are quickly trying to determine what the changes might mean for recently developed lifesaving vaccines and treatments against the disease.

Some early findings published in the preprint server bioRxiv, which have yet to be peer reviewed, indicate that the variant identified in South Africa, what scientists are calling the B.1.351 strain, can evade the antibodies provided by some coronavirus treatments and may reduce the effectiveness of the current line of available vaccines. Fauci told CNN in an interview that it was very similar to the new strain found in Brazil.

However, there is some good news: The newly developed mRNA technology used to make the vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna makes it easy to adapt to the new strains, Fauci said. He added that the drugmakers are already working to make “booster” shots that will target the variant found in South Africa, which appears to be more problematic than the others.

“We’re already trying to stay one or two steps ahead of the game so that if, in fact, we have a situation where the South African strain is prevalent here — it’s here, but it’s certainly not dominant — you want to really get ahead of it from a protection standpoint,” Fauci said. “You’re going to want to have a vaccine that specifically addresses that strain.”

This is a developing story. Please check back later for updates.