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BioNTech chief ‘confident’ Pfizer vaccine works against Indian virus strain

Ugur Sahin, co-founder of company that jointly developed leading COVID-19 inoculation, says shots have proved effective against other similar mutations

Ugur Sahin, co-founder of the Mainz-based coronavirus vaccine developer BioNTech, listens during an Axel Springer Award ceremony, March 18, 2021.(Bernd von Jutrczenka/dpa via AP, Pool)
Ugur Sahin, co-founder of the Mainz-based coronavirus vaccine developer BioNTech, listens during an Axel Springer Award ceremony, March 18, 2021.(Bernd von Jutrczenka/dpa via AP, Pool)

BERLIN, Germany — BioNTech co-founder Ugur Sahin on Wednesday voiced confidence that the vaccine his company jointly developed with Pfizer works against the Indian variant of the coronavirus.

“We are still testing the Indian variant, but the Indian variant has mutations that we have already tested for and which our vaccine works against, so I am confident,” said Sahin.

“The vaccine is cleverly built and I’m convinced the bulwark will hold. And if we have to strengthen the bulwark again, then we will do it, that I’m not worried about,” he added.

Israel is using the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for its world-leading coronavirus immunization drive that has already seen over half the population inoculated. However, at least seven cases of the Indian variation of the virus have been detected in the country and health officials have raised concerns of the danger the variant could pose if it is resilient to the vaccine.

India is facing surging new cases and deaths in the pandemic, and fears are rising that the variant could be contributing to the unfolding catastrophe.

The World Health Organization has said the B.1.617 variant of COVID-19 first found in India had as of Tuesday been detected in “at least 17 countries.”

The health agency recently listed B.1.617 — which counts several sub-lineages with slightly different mutations and characteristics — as a “variant of interest.”

But so far it has stopped short of declaring it a “variant of concern,” which would have indicated that it is more dangerous than the original version of the virus by, for instance, being more transmissible, deadly, or able to dodge vaccine protections.

Beds lie inside an indoor stadium converted into a COVID-19 treatment center for emergencies in the wake of the spike in the numbers of positive coronavirus cases in Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, April 28, 2021. (Dar Yasin/AP)

The BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine was the first to win authorization in the West and has since been deployed in dozens of countries worldwide.

With an eye on blocking entry to mutations of the virus, Israel’s Health Ministry on Tuesday recommended new travel restrictions for Israelis, which would ban travel to seven high-risk countries including India, and force even vaccinated travelers to enter quarantine upon their return to Israel.

The proposed travel restrictions come as Israel plans to reopen its borders to organized groups of tourists in a program starting late May. The Health Ministry has recommended delaying the launch of the program by another month.

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