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Do the Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson and Johnson protect against the new COVID-19 variants?

Ed Walsh
Medical worker helps to prepare a COVID-19 vaccine for an injectionUniversity of California San Francisco

The University of California San Francisco is addressing the growing concern over the COVID-19 variants and whether the three vaccines approved in the US, Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson and Johnson are effective against those variants.

UCSF stated, "We know more about how the J&J vaccine protects against the coronavirus variants because the trials were conducted in South Africa and Brazil when the new variants had become prevalent. In South Africa, some 95% of circulating virus was the B.1.351 variant and in Brazil, 69% of the circulating virus was a P1/P2 variant at the time of the trial. Although the J&J vaccine appeared to be less effective against mild and moderate disease in these regions, it remained strongly protective against severe disease, hospitalizations and deaths."

“We cannot say definitively that the difference in efficacy in these regions is due to more variants, but it’s an assumption,” said Dr. Monica Gandhi, MD, an infectious disease expert.

Here in the US, where the prevalence of the variants is relatively low experts say. Gandhi said the overall efficacy of 72% likely was not affected by the variants.

UCSF cautioned that the mRNA vaccine trials were not conducted in the presence of high levels of the variants. Although the Johnson and Johnson vaccine had more exposure in testing to the variants because its testing was completed later than Pfizer and Moderna.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention echoed much of UCSF's advice, stating, "New variants of the virus that causes COVID-19 are spreading in the United States. Current data suggest that COVID-19 vaccines authorized for use in the United States offer protection against most variants. However, some variants might cause illness in some people after they are fully vaccinated.

"What We Do Not Know

"Evidence is limited on how the new COVID-19 variants will affect how COVID-19 vaccines work in real-world conditions. CDC has systems in place to monitor how common these variants are and to look for the emergence of new variants. CDC will continue to monitor variants to see if they have any impact on how COVID-19 vaccines work in real-world conditions."

University of California San Francisco's Dr. Monica Gandhi told " Variants are getting overblown attention in the media. The Johnson and Johnson vaccine efficacy varied across mild disease but not serious illness for both the South Africa and Brazil variants. T- cell immunity works against multiple parts of the spike protein so it will protect against severe disease with the variants."

Despite the concern over the variants, Dr. Gandhi said she didn't think annual vaccines would be necessary. "Extrapolating from natural immunity, it looks like immunity will last at least ten years in the T-cell response and maybe longer. People who contracted and recovered from the 1918 flu still had antibodies 90 years later," she told "I do not believe we will need annual vaccines. A coronavirus is different from an influenza virus."

Experts noted that the speed of vaccinations in the US has resulted in fewer variants that have been observed in Europe and Southeast Asia

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