Inside Pfizer’s labs, ‘variant hunters’ race to stay ahead of the pandemic’s next twist

PEARL RIVER, N.Y. — Delta was tearing its way through India and, as the death toll climbed higher, so did the anxiety inside Pfizer’s lab north of New York City. The Covid-19 variant was threatening to undo their work from the past breakneck year, by rendering their acclaimed vaccine ineffective.

Hundreds of millions of doses have been injected worldwide, but at the Pearl River research center where the vaccine was created, the pace has not let up. A team of “variant hunters,” as they call themselves, race to track changes in the fast-mutating SARS-CoV-2. A “virus farmer” grows the latest variants so researchers can test how they fare against the vaccine. And a colleague known as the “graphing unicorn” converts the data into intelligible results overnight.

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