The coronavirus is rapidly mutating and we are able to observe its new versions in UK, South Africa and even India.
First-generation COVID-19 vaccines appear to be working against today’s variants, but makers already are taking steps to update their formula to tackle variants.
COVID-19 vaccines by Pfizer and Moderna are made with new technology that’s easy to update. The mRNA vaccines use a piece of genetic code for the spike protein that coats the coronavirus, so that immune system can learn to recognize and fight the real thing.
If a variant with a mutated spike protein develops that the original vaccine can’t recognize, companies would swap out that piece of genetic code for a better match.
Updating other COVID-19 vaccines could be more complex. The AstraZeneca vaccine uses a harmless version of a cold virus to carry that spike protein gene into the body. An update would require growing cold viruses with the updated spike gene.
Studies of updated COVID-19 vaccines won’t have to be as large or long as for the first generation of shots. Instead, a few hundred volunteers could receive experimental doses of a revamped vaccine.
Influenza viruses mutate much faster than coronaviruses, so flu shots are adjusted every year and must protect against multiple strains.
A mutation is a change that occurs in our DNA sequence, either due to mistakes when the DNA is copied or as the result of environmental factors such as UV light and cigarette smoke.