The vaccine made by Pfizer-BioNTech is currently being given to the most vulnerable in the UK

The company behind the Covid-19 vaccine being given to people in the UK says it is “highly likely” the vaccine will protect people against the new variant of the virus.

But if necessary, the vaccine could be re-engineered in a matter of weeks, BioNTech’s boss said.

UK scientists discovered the variant after analysing a sharp rise in cases in the south-east of England.

They say it could spread up to 70% more quickly than other forms of the virus.

The new variant is thought to be present in many parts of the UK but is particularly concentrated in Kent, Essex and London.

BioNTech, in partnership with drug firm Pfizer, developed the first vaccine against Covid-19 to be approved by an internationally recognised regulatory body – the UK’s, in early December.

More than 500,000 people in the UK have now been given their first dose of the vaccine.

The vaccine has also been approved by the US regulator, the FDA, and the European Medicines Agency for use in the EU.

At a news conference in Germany, Ugur Sahin, chief executive of BioNTech, said “scientifically, it is highly likely that [the] immune response by this vaccine also can deal with the new virus variant”.

And he added that the company had the technology to refine its vaccine very quickly if it needed to.

“The beauty of the Messenger RNA technology is that we can directly start to engineer a vaccine which completely mimics this new mutation – we could be able to provide a new vaccine technically within six weeks, so that means a vaccine which contains this information,” Mr Sahin said.

He confirmed that he didn’t know “at the moment” if their vaccine was able to provide protection against this new variant.