Future mutations of the COVID-19 vaccines could curb effectiveness

DORAL, FL – On Wednesday, researchers from Rockefeller University in New York expressed concern over future mutations of the COVID-19 vaccines that could reduce its efficacy.

According to a report from the Associated Press, the research tested coronaviruses from the United Kingdom, South Africa and Brazil in association with scientists from the National Institutes of Health and elsewhere. 

They warn there are signs that some mutations could “modestly curb the effectiveness of the two current vaccines”, although the vaccines still protect against the disease. 

Findings posted late Tuesday on an online website for researchers suggested the Rockefeller researchers collected blood samples from 20 people who had received either the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine shots and tested their antibodies against several virus mutations in the lab.

With some people, says the study leader, Rockefeller’s Dr. Michel Nussenzweig, the antibodies didn’t work as well against the virus — activity was one-to-threefold less, depending on the mutation.

“It’s a small difference but it is definitely a difference,” said Dr. Nussenzweig. The antibody response is “not as good” at blocking the virus.

John Wherry, an immunology expert at the University of Pennsylvania, said the Rockefeller scientists are “among the very best in the world” at this work and their results are concerning, reported the AP. 

“We don’t want people thinking that the current vaccine is already outdated. That’s absolutely not true,” he said. “There’s still immunity here … a good level of protection,” but the mutations “do in fact reduce how well our immune response is recognizing the virus.”

Dr. Drew Weissman, a University of Pennsylvania scientist that contributed with the Moderna and Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines, said the antibody findings are “worrisome”, although he expressed the vaccines also protect in other ways, such as spurring responses from other parts of the immune system.

Earlier in January, Pfizer and researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch said that the vaccine was effective against a mutation called N501Y from new variants found in the U.K. and South Africa. 

“The latest work tested all the mutations from the variant from the U.K. at once rather than one-by-one. Tests from 16 vaccine recipients showed no big difference in the ability of antibodies to block the virus, the researchers said in a report”, according to the AP.

If the virus eventually mutates enough that the vaccine needs adjusting, both Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are made with a piece of the virus genetic code that is simple to switch.

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