A handful of new strains of the coronavirus have emerged overseas that have given scientists some cause for concern. Some variants that have been identified in the United Kingdom, South Africa and Brazil appear to be more transmissible than previous strains but not necessarily more deadly.
While it’s no surprise the virus is mutating, researchers are quickly trying to determine what the changes might mean for recently developed lifesaving vaccines and therapeutics against the disease.
Some early findings that were published in the preprint server bioRxiv, which have yet to be peer reviewed, indicate that the variant identified in South Africa can evade the antibodies provided by some coronavirus treatments, and may reduce the efficacy of the current line of available vaccines.
However, even if the drugs are less effective, they will still likely provide enough protection to make the vaccines worth getting, Fauci said. Both vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna have proven to be highly effective, creating a “cushion effect” that would allow for some dip in their effectiveness.
A dip in the vaccines’ effectiveness would be “all the more reason why we should be vaccinating as many people as you possibly can.” Mutations occur when the virus spreads and replicates itself, which can be suppressed if enough people are inoculated against the disease to build so-called herd immunity.
“Bottom line: We’re paying very close attention to it. There are alternative plans if we ever have to modify the vaccine. That’s not something that is a very onerous thing, we can do that given the platforms we have,” Fauci said during the White House press briefing.
This is a developing story. Please check back later for updates.