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The Vaccine Race – Efficacy & Virus Mutations.

To battle Coronavirus, vaccines are being created. However, the deadly virus has produced mutations that endanger the vaccine’s efficacy. The authors explore whether the vaccines will be able to combat the new strains or lead to another round of challenges.

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By Muhammad Nauman Shareef, Maryam Shahid & Aeraj Amjad

With almost a year passing by, Coronavirus has undergone several new mutations and has raised concerns in many countries which include most of Europe. These mutations have raised several questions regarding the efficacy of vaccines on virus mutations including; will the new vaccines that are being produced be able to cure the new strains of this deadly Coronavirus or will it create new havoc in the nations worldwide?

Effectiveness of vaccines against new viral strains

The new viral strain VUI-202012/01 also known as lineage B.1.1.7 is considered to be the reason behind the rising cases in the second wave.

It was first identified in the United Kingdom and has 23 mutations as compared to the older strain and eight of these mutations affect spike protein which enables the virus to enter into the host. These mutations chiefly affect the building block of four viral proteins.

Read more: Coronavirus: Scientists discover unique mutation, antibody

Now as far as the vaccines are concerned, a large number of clinical trials have shown that vaccines produced by Pfizer and Moderna have shown 95% of efficacy against this novel Coronavirus.

According to officials, these vaccines might lower their effectiveness against this new strain of virus but would still prove efficient. There would be a modest effect rather than a dramatic one. The new strains might decrease the efficacy of the vaccine from 95% to 80% but the vaccine would still be effective.

“Let me tell you what, there is no evidence of no reason to believe, it is not any more lethal or any more dangerous than the normal coronavirus, no evidence to suggest that, no reason to believe it,” said Admiral Brett Giroir, Assistant Secretary for Health at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

Vaccines might lose efficacy

Both these vaccines basically train our immune system by recognizing a specific version of the spike proteins. Now the other group of scientists believes that the version of the spike protein used by the vaccines is able to work effectively against the old strains of the virus but it might lose efficacy against the newly identified strains of the virus because the version of the spike protein in vaccines is designed to match that of old strain.

The vaccine-virus mismatch is a hot issue and definitely a challenge for the scientists who are working to develop an accurate vaccine for Coronavirus. Therefore, the issue that is now surrounding the scientists is not the rate of efficacy of the vaccine rather the severity of the mismatch matters.

Also, not enough data has been collected on this new strain identified in UK therefore it is too early to say that the vaccine might lose its effectiveness or will it show the same effectiveness against the new strains.

The overall effectiveness of these vaccines produced by Moderna and Pfizer depends on the data collected through the clinical phases of this vaccine against the new strain.

Regarding the Pfizer vaccination, experts say, “Based on our Phase 3 safety and efficacy study, the vaccine provides some protection against Covid-19 within about 10 days of the first dose and substantially boosted after the second dose, supporting the need for a 2-dose vaccination series”.

As the issue is getting into mainstream media, many scientists and heads of states have issued statements regarding the concerns of the effectiveness of these vaccines against the newly identified strain.

The prime minister of the UK, Boris Johnson, has issued a statement that there is no reason to believe that vaccines would prove ineffective against this new strain. Scientists have not seen any gross change in the spike protein or virulence that would lower the effectiveness of vaccines against the new strain.

No one can say at this stage that the vaccines would dodge the virus; the continuous mutations just prove how strong the Coronavirus is.

Read more: COVID-19 vaccines finally here: What’s next though?

2021- a year of new challenges?

The cases of this new strain of virus are rising in the UK and other European countries. Germany, Spain, and South Africa have already identified the new strain and registered cases. Pakistan is not far behind as it has also been registered with patients infected from the new strain of this virus.

This has caused a new wave of chaos among the majority of the world’s population. 2021 will definitely be a year of new challenges as the vaccines have almost completed their clinical phases and the virus is getting more powerful with its mutations and new strains getting identified.

With the economic pressure faced by the countries worldwide, one can only suggest that this year would be a year of new challenges.

The writers are students of Atta ur Rehman School of Applied Biosciences (ASAB), National University of Science and Technology, Islamabad.

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