Pfizer (PFE) - Get Pfizer Inc. Report shares hit a record high Friday, powering early gains for vaccine makers, as investors piled into the drugmaker following confirmation of a new COVID variant in South Africa and news that European officials have approved Comirnaty for use in young children.
The World Health Organization will hold an emergency meeting Friday following the discovery of the variant, known as B.1.1.529, in a traveler visiting Israel from South Africa earlier this week. It has also been identified in Hong Kong, according to U.K. health officials, as well as Botswana.
The variant carries a spike protein -- the basis for infection -- that is vastly different to that which current vaccines are designed to neutralize, health authorities have said, and is mutating quickly.
"WHO is closely monitoring the recently reported variant B.1.1.529. So far under 100 sequences have been reported," the agency said in a statement. "Early analysis shows that this variant has a large number of mutations that require and will undergo further study."
"WHO is convening a meeting of the TAG-VE today to better understand the timeline for studies that are underway and to determine if this variant should be designated as a variant of interest or variant of concern," the statement added.
Pfizer shares were marked 6.75% higher in early trading to change hands at $54.33 each. The stock hit a record high of $54.94 earlier in the session.
Pfizer's COVID antiviral treatment, which may continue to be effective despite the vaccine resistance of the new variant, is another factor adding to the stock's pre-market move.
Meanwhile the European Medicines Agency said Pfizer's coronavirus vaccine, already used in adolescents between the age of 12 and 17, can now be used in kids between the ages of 5 and 11, albeit at a lower dose, setting up the potential for a broader vaccine rollout over the world's biggest economic bloc.