COVID-19 vaccine likely to be effective against new virus strain, experts say

ByTimothy Didion KGO logo
Saturday, December 26, 2020
New virus strain causes concern
Concerns over the new strain of the coronavirus has manufacturers working to ensure the vaccine will be effective enough.

Concern over a new fast spreading variant of the coronavirus in England has leading manufacturers Moderna and Pfizer working to ensure their Vaccines will still be effective. While early evidence suggests the strain might be as much as 70-percent more transmissible, experts we spoke with are still optimistic about the vaccine rollout.

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"Those vaccines are remarkable. The magnitude of the immune response is much better than what we've been seeing with the standard flu vaccine," says Stanford infectious disease expert Dr. Catherine Blish, M.D., Ph.D.

Dr. Blish also believes covid-19 mutations are part of the normal viral pattern.

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"Should we keep our eye on it? Absolutely. But also, this is not surprising in any way. Viruses mutate, it's what they do. it's part of their natural evolution," she adds.

Health experts in the U.K. say there's no evidence yet that the strain has any selective advantage over vaccines, which are only now being put into circulation.

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UCSF researcher Nevan Krogan, Ph.D., was part of an international team that was able to photograph and analyze the coronavirus earlier this year discovering wispy spikes it uses to help spread through cells more effectively. But he says at this point, any concerns about a mutation's ability to effect vaccines would probably be focused on the future.

"It looks like it's had no effect whatsoever, although one needs to keep in mind that there's a large amount of antibodies when you initially get that vaccine and it looks like the mutations have no effect," Dr. Krogan explains. "But when the antibodies start to decrease, the fear is that those mutations would result in more susceptibility when the anti-body levels are lower."

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Some experts believe future vaccines might have to be tweaked, in the way flu vaccines are, if the virus were to develop a successful mutation. A process that might be quicker and less expensive for companies like Moderna and Pfizer which use a more flexible messenger-RNA platform.

Moderna has announced plans to begin testing against the UK strain in the next few weeks, but says it expects its vaccine to be effective.

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