The identification of a potentially more transmissible coronavirus variant, primarily in the United Kingdom, has scientists and government officials, alike, sounding the alarm. The U.K. has tightened lockdown measures, and several continental European countries are halting flights to Great Britain. There's no evidence the variant affects the severity of COVID-19 infections, but increased infectiousness would make curbing the spread even harder, which is why certain areas of the U.K. may face restrictions until there's widespread vaccine availability. But could mutations like the one in the U.K. render those vaccines ineffective?
The consensus answer is reassuring for the time being. Daniel Altman, a professor of immunology at Imperial College London, told The Finanical Times the new variant should actually strengthen the case "for all to get vaccinated as soon as possible," explaining that the mutations won't be able to fool the neutralizing antibodies produced by the shot. Francois Balloux, director of the University College London Genetics Institute, concurred, saying "it's not a strain that should be able to escape protection provided by immunization from the current vaccines or prior infection."
That said, Trevor Bedford, a virologist who has kept a close watch on the virus throughout the pandemic, does think there should eventually be a process in place to update the vaccines so they can keep up with more significant mutations, much like there is for the flu vaccine. He is not, however, worried about that affecting the 2021 vaccine rollout, while also clarifying that potential future drops in vaccine efficacy will likely be "modest." Read more at The Financial Times and check out Bedford's Twitter thread below.
With #COVID19 vaccine efficacy of ~95%, I'm looking forward to vaccine distribution in 2021 bringing the pandemic under control. However, I'm concerned that we'll see antigenic drift of SARS-CoV-2 and may need to update the strain used in the vaccine with some regularity. 1/18
— Trevor Bedford (@trvrb) December 19, 2020
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