“This is the first variant I saw during the entire pandemic, in which I took a step back and said, ‘Wow’,” he recalls.
Health officials have minimized the possibility that coronavirus vaccines will not work against the UK strain, but Worobey and other scientists think it is a possibility – and only a possibility – that this new variant may, to a small extent, outperform vaccines .
“This is the first variant I see where I think there is this burning question,” said Worobey, head of the department of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Arizona.
Trevor Bedford, associate professor in the vaccine and infectious disease division at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, is also eyeing the UK variant.
Large clinical trials have shown that Pfizer / BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are about 95% effective against the new coronavirus. These tests, however, were done before the UK variant started its explosive growth.
Bedford said he did not believe the vaccine would be useless against the new strain in the UK, but that it could slightly decrease its effectiveness.
“This can decrease the vaccine’s effectiveness from 95% to somewhere around 80% or 85%,” he said. “It would be a modest effect, not a dramatic one.”
Health officials said there was no reason to think that the vaccine would not work against the new variant.
“[There is] no evidence to suggest, nor reason to believe, that it would escape our vaccines that we now have, “said Assistant Secretary of Health, Admiral Dr. Brett Giroir, on Monday.
“This specific variant in the UK, I think, is very unlikely to have escaped immunity from the vaccine,” said Moncef Slaoui, chief of Operation Warp Speed, on Sunday.
But some scientists point out that this mutation is not like others that preceded it.
“We must not immediately conclude (as many have done) that it is not a concern, “wrote Kristian Andersen, professor in the department of immunology and microbiology at Scripps Research Andersen to CNN.” We just don’t know it right now – but we should know more soon. ”
Bette Korber, a scientist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, also examined the variant.
“The mutations are really worrying, ALL of them need to be tested,” Bette Korber, a scientist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, wrote to CNN when asked if the new mutation was a concern for the vaccine.
“This virus has 17 unique mutations that have not been seen elsewhere, and this is really unusual,” said Worobey.
It is not just the number of mutations that worries some scientists, but how they can work together.
Dr. Ugur Sahin, CEO of BioNTech, said he does not think the new variant will cause a problem, but if it does, the vaccine can be updated.
“We must not forget that we still have the opportunity, if necessary, to adjust the vaccine exactly to this new variant of the virus, if necessary,” said Sahin. “I don’t think that is necessary. But if it is necessary, there is a technical possibility of doing so.”