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What Investors Need to Know About Coronavirus Variants

By Keith Speights - Jan 22, 2021 at 10:30AM

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There's some good news but also some reasons for concern.

The rollouts of the COVID-19 vaccines developed by Moderna (MRNA -0.92%) and Pfizer (PFE 0.56%) with its partner BioNTech (BNTX 0.11%) are well under way. However, there are now new variants of SARS-CoV-2 that are different than the one for which the vaccines were initially tested. In this Motley Fool Live video recorded on Jan. 13, 2021, healthcare and cannabis bureau chief Corinne Cardina and writer Keith Speights discuss what investors need to know about these new coronavirus variants.

Corinne Cardina: Definitely. Let's talk about the coronavirus variants. There's been a lot of concern about coronavirus variants that our circulating. Some of them are reported to be more transmissible than the original strain. Before we get into specifics, can you explain what the difference is between a coronavirus variant and a mutation?

Keith Speights: Basically, a variant can consist of multiple mutations. I guess the best way to look at it is a mutation is any individual genetic change in the virus. Just one minor change in the DNA of the virus counts as a mutation, whereas a variant is the accumulation of those mutations that make it different enough from the prevailing strain for scientists to look at it as a different variant of the coronavirus. That's the main difference there.

Corinne Cardina: Awesome. That's very helpful. Of course, we've heard headlines for, I don't know, a couple of weeks now about the variant in the UK, a variant in South Africa. Today, researchers in Ohio said that they have actually discovered two new variants that likely originated in the US. They are planning to publish a study soon on this, don't think it's peer reviewed yet. The CDC confirmed they are looking into it.

Now, before, when we were talking about the UK and the South African variants, Pfizer and BioNTech, they did a study that also, yet to be peer reviewed, but it showed that their vaccine will still be effective as it relates to a single mutation called 501Y. Let's tidy this up a little bit. What do investors need to know about all these different variants happening? Is this cause for concern? Should the vaccines be effective? What do you think about all this?

Keith Speights: Yeah. I think the main thing for investors to know is at least at this point, there's no reason to think that the vaccines won't be effective with these new variants. Like you mentioned, Corinne, there's this latest study from Pfizer and BioNTech that appears to indicate that their vaccine will still be effective. Now again, like you said, they were just focusing on that single mutation, and there are other mutations in the variant that they're looking at, but I think it's encouraging and I think you'll see more studies that do conclusively show that the vaccines that have been authorized already do work with these new variants of the coronavirus.

But the thing to watch is just like you mentioned, the news story that just came out, that there could be yet another variant or two originating in the US. I think you're going to see more of these over the coming months. This isn't unusual whatsoever. Viruses mutate continually. I think we're going to see new variants, new strains of the coronavirus from here on.

We will have to keep a watch on that, because it's possible that in the future that some of the vaccines might not be as effective against future strains and future variants. But I think scientists are already wondering and worrying a little bit that the UK variant could make some of the antibody therapies less effective. There are reasons to be concerned. Nothing to worry about at this point, particularly with the vaccines, but it's something for investors to really keep their eyes on because it could shake up the dynamics of this whole market going forward.

Corinne Cardina: Absolutely. The Eli Lilly (LLY 0.34%) CEO actually went on CNBC yesterday and he said he expects the company's COVID-19 antibody drug to be effective against the UK variant, but they are concerned about the South African variant. Obviously, very important, when we're looking at the treatment landscape. It's looking like they'll probably be effective for the vaccines but big questions about this antibody treatments. We will keep an eye on anything that develops there.

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Stocks Mentioned

Moderna, Inc. Stock Quote
Moderna, Inc.
$130.85 (-0.92%) $-1.21
Pfizer Inc. Stock Quote
Pfizer Inc.
$53.71 (0.56%) $0.30
Eli Lilly and Company Stock Quote
Eli Lilly and Company
$307.01 (0.34%) $1.05
BioNTech SE Stock Quote
BioNTech SE
$154.67 (0.11%) $0.17

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