MONTREAL -- While the government warns that variants of COVID-19 still pose a major threat to public health, a group of Montreal researchers said their preliminary results offer positive news: that the available vaccines likely offer at least some protection.

“The vaccines that are being deployed are able to generate some level of immune protection against the variant,” said Andres Finzi, a researcher at the Centre Hospitalier de l'Universite de Montreal.

The study focused in particular on the U.K. variant of the virus and followed 32 health workers who received the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine.

Half of the subjects had previously been infected with COVID-19 and all were in good health.

Finzi said the goal was to better understand the immune response to the vaccine.

“I'm not saying that we should not be vigilant about variants. Of course, we need to be very careful about the variants and we need to follow them and do as much research as possible,” he said. “The only thing we are saying is that luckily the vaccines are using the full spike and by using the full spike, they are able to elicit antibodies that recognize several places of the spike that don't move too much between variants.”

Infectious disease specialist Matthew Oughton said the study is exactly the type that needs to be conducted.

“Not just here in Canada but certainly in most parts of Canada and around the world, some these more easily transmissible variants... are gradually replacing the so-called wild-type SARS-COV-2,” he said. “As a result, you want to know for the vaccines that were developed using that original version of the virus, you want to have confidence the vaccines will also be effective against circulating variants.”

Oughton cautioned that though the findings lay the groundwork to answer crucial questions, more work remains to be done.

“An issue that's on a lot of people's minds right now is that there are certain combinations of certain vaccines and certain variants,” he said. “The best example being the Astrazeneca vaccine and the South African variant, where it appears the Astrazeneca vaccine doesn't elicit a response that's terribly protective.”

In the study's next phase, the researchers will follow a larger group and look at other variants, including the South African and Brazilian types.