The coronavirus is rapidly mutating causing healthcare experts to worry about whether or not the recently authorized vaccines will still be effective. New COVID-19 variants have been detected in the United Kingdom, Brazil, and the US with mutations that may allow the virus to resist existing vaccines.
COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna are already in circulation with roughly 24 million having been vaccinated in the United States as of January 28th, 2021, while other vaccines by companies like AstraZeneca and Janssen are already in Phase 3 clinical trials. With vaccination efforts well underway, achieving widespread immunity may be more challenging than previously believed.
What Are the New COVID-19 Variants?
The COVID-19 virus, much like any widespread virus, will mutate as it multiplies and infects individuals. For the most part these mutations are harmless to public health due to the fact that they are often random and don’t always result in a virus being more deadly or transmissible. However, if allowed to mutate enough, viruses like COVID-19 may eventually develop an adaptation that adds to the virus’ ability to spread. Health care experts have been tracking the steady mutations of COVID-19 since the pandemic began and so far a total of six variants have been singled out:
- B.1.17,20I: A variant from the UK that is thought to be 40% more transmissible.
- B.1.351,20C: A variant discovered in South Africa that is thought to be more transmissible and resistant to vaccine-induced antibodies.
- P.1,20J: A variant born out of Brazil and thought to have a potential for greater transmissibility.
- COH.20G: A variant discovered in Columbus, OH, that has an evolved spike protein that may assist in resisting vaccine-induced antibodies.
- S Q677H: Discovered in Ohio and otherwise known as the "Midwest" variant, provides no current evidence for greater transmissibility.
- L452R: A variant found in California that has an evolved spike protein and is associated with a surge in cases.
More research needs to be done to determine whether these new strains are contributing to current surges. These variants are just a handful of the many strains that are continuing to mutate as the COVID-19 virus continues to spread.
What Do the New COVID-19 Mutations Do?
Medical experts are tracking a handful of specific mutations that can affect COVID-19’s ability to spread and create more severe illness. One such mutation is the spike protein that makes the virus far more transmissible. In some instances, this spike protein may also help the virus evade a vaccine-induced antibody response. According to initial studies, the mutations along the virus’s surface make it particularly worrying. Virus expert Penny Moore at the National Institute for Communicable Diseases in South Africa states it best saying, “So when we see a whole lot of mutations [in those surfaces], it raises the possibility that the new mutations might be conferring immune escape.”
Will the COVID-19 Vaccines Work on the New Mutations?
The question remains, ‘if I get vaccinated will I be resistant to new COVID-19 variants?’ While some scientists worry that these new mutations could nullify the effectiveness of existing vaccines, the evidence is still inconclusive.
Medical health experts remain optimistic including evolutionary biologist Jesse Bloom of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, “…even if antibody effectiveness were reduced tenfold, the vaccines would still be quite effective against the virus.”
At the same time, should these new coronavirus variants adapt to resist our current vaccines, manufacturers can tweak the vaccine’s makeup to fight potential viral mutations. Updating current vaccines to combat mutations is well within the realm of possibility, but as it stands now our inoculation efforts should be as aggressive as ever.
How CNECT is Assisting in the Vaccination Effort
Please join our upcoming webinar ‘The Evolving COVID-19 Crisis: Vaccination Update & Testing for New Variants’ exclusive for CNECT members on February 25th at 10:00 am PST. This webinar will discuss the available and future state of COVID-19 vaccines, vaccine distribution after phase 1, and the efficacy rates of vaccines against the new variants from experts at Premier Inc. and Quest Diagnostics.
As an industry leading group purchasing organization (GPO), CNECT is here to assist your business by providing access to supplies and resources to help your healthcare organization in fighting the spread of COVID-19. From live educational webinars, to newsletters that provide you with contracts and resources to ensure your facility remains prepared, we’re to help.