There is a new strain of COVID-19. Will vaccines work against this?


Vaxx Populi: The mutations identified in England affect the virus’s crucial spike protein, but so far scientists expect vaccines to protect against the new variant.

December 14 Announcement by UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock that the government “has identified a new variant of the coronavirus, which may be associated with faster spread in the southwest of England.” Hancock said more than 1,000 cases of this new variant of COVID-19 have already been detected in the south-east of England, and similar variants have also been identified in other countries recently.

What we know about COVID-19 mutations

Finding a new variety is not unexpected, says Dr Lynora Saxinger, infectious disease physician in Edmonton and associate professor at the University of Alberta. “Every time a virus spreads through populations, it accumulates mutations, and you see strains emerge that may be different,” Saxinger said. Maclean’s. Since its detection, SARS-CoV-2 has accumulated one or two mutations per month around the world, the COVID-19 Genomics UK Consortium explained in a press release, with the vast majority of these genetic changes having no apparent effect. about the virus. .

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This relative stability is what makes the coronavirus so different from the seasonal flu, Saxinger says: “Influenza literally changes clothes. He has a whole wardrobe of outfits and he can swap them out every year and then every year you try to guess what he’s going to wear and make a vaccine for it. In contrast, this coronavirus “doesn’t have a whole bunch of building blocks to swap in and out, and so far the advanced protein antigens that are targeted by the vaccine don’t appear to be anything that changes much.” (A spike protein is what the coronavirus uses to enter human cells.)

Will the vaccines work against the new strain?

Since mutations in the UK variants affect this crucial spike protein, there is concern that the new vaccines will not work against this new strain. Researchers are studying “at the rate”, announced the British consortium. Yet he declared, « There is currently no evidence that this variant (or any other studied to date)… will make vaccines less effective. “

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Dr Eric Feigl-Ding, epidemiologist with the Federation of American Scientists, agrees. ” We should assume it [the new strain] probably not [impact current vaccines] since the vaccine causes the body to develop immunity against all of the spike protein, not just part of it. Dr Lynora Saxinger is also quite confident, saying, “I don’t think there is really much concern that we will have to find a new vaccine formula or repeat the vaccination anytime soon.”

As Canada rolls out the country’s most complex immunization project to date, Maclean’s present The people of Vaxx, an ongoing series in which Patricia Treble addresses the most pressing issues related to new COVID-19 vaccines. Send us a question you would like to answer at [email protected]


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