The new strain of COVID-19 that appeared in the UK is “very unlikely” to escape vaccine immunity, said Moncef Slaoui, the Moroccan-born scientist at the head of Operation Warp Speed.
“Up to now, I do not think there has been a single variant [of the coronavirus] that would be resistant to the vaccine. We can’t exclude it, but it’s not there now, and this particular variant in the UK, I think, is very unlikely to have escaped the vaccine immunity,” Slaoui declared on Sunday, December 20, in an interview with CNN.
As leader of the US public-private partnership Operation Warp Speed, Slaoui has monitored the development of several COVID-19 vaccines, including two—Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna—that received an authorization for emergency use from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
A vaccination campaign is set to begin today, December 21, in the US, prioritizing health workers and people at high-risk of developing critical COVID-19 symptoms.
The campaign comes as the US exceeds 18 million COVID-19 cases and nears 325,000 coronavirus-related deaths.
While the vaccination campaign represents a “light at the end of the tunnel,” as Slaoui described it, populations around the world, including in the US, are worried the new strain of COVID-19 that appeared in the UK will be invulnerable to the developed vaccines.
The UK government announced the new strain of COVID-19 last week, saying it is suspected to have caused a surge in infections in the south of the country.
On December 19, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the new variant of the coronavirus could be 70% more transmissible than the previously-recorded strains.
The high transmission rate of the variant led many countries, including Morocco, Ireland, Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands, and Belgium, to suspend all flights to and from the UK.
When asked whether he is certain the new strain of COVID-19 will not escape vaccine immunity, Slaoui admitted that there is a very small possibility it does.
“You can never say never in science. So, there could be, at some point, something that comes up that helps the virus escape,” the scientist said.
“But, because the vaccines are using antibodies against many different parts of the spike protein, the chances that all of them change, I think, are low. They are not inexistant, but they are not there now,” he added.