Mutations in viruses (including COVID-19) are not unexpected
According to Stuart Ray, M.D., Vice-Chair of Medicine for Data Integrity and Analytics, new strains of viruses occur when there is a change (mutation) to the virus’ genes.
Ray says it is the nature of RNA viruses such as the coronavirus to evolve and change gradually. “Geographic separation tends to result in genetically distinct strains,” he says.
Were COVID-19 mutations unexpected?
Therefore, virus mutations, including mutations to the coronavirus, are really not surprising or unexpected. Flu viruses change often as well as a number of viruses. According to John Hopkins Medicine, as the coronavirus continues to spread across the population, mutations of the virus will continue to appear.
Scientists say the COVID-19 vaccine will still protect against the new strain of COVID-19
The two vaccines that have been approved in the U.S. were created by Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech. Both companies are confident that their vaccines will still be effective against the new strain of COVID-19, as they are created to work even when the virus mutates.
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Most of the sites on the virus that trigger an immune response have not been affected by the new mutations; therefore, the vaccine should still prompt the body to create antibodies to fight against the new strain.
Will the vaccine be protected against the new strain?
Both companies will be testing their vaccine on the new strain to ensure that it is still effective. Experts are still urging the public to receive the vaccine, as it is our best shot at ending the COVID-19 pandemic.
It will take researchers about 2 weeks to fully understand how effective the vaccine will be in preventing infection with the new strain of COVID-19.
If the vaccine is not as effective in preventing the new strain of COVID-19, Pfizer-BioNTech can produce a new vaccine within 6 weeks
BioNTech CEO Ugur Sahin states that “it is highly likely that the immune response by this vaccine also can deal with the new virus variant.”
Nonetheless, he reported to the Financial Times that because the COVID vaccine was made using mRNA technology, a new vaccine could be made within 6 weeks if necessary.
While the variant isn’t deadlier, it is more infectious than the previously identified coronavirus
Public health experts in the UK believe that the new strain of COVID-19 is 70% more transmissible than the original strain. This means that it is much easier to spread and catch the new strain. While scientists are not entirely sure why this strain is spreading faster, some believe that becoming infected with it results in a higher viral load or more of the virus in your body.
However, the CDC notes that there is no current indication that this new strain of COVID-19 is more deadly than the original strain.