A Q&A about the new #coronavirus variant with the Fred Hutch scientist who’s been tracking its spread | The Seattle Times
Q: You’ve said the new variant might be slightly less susceptible to vaccine-induced immunity, but that it isn’t different enough to completely foil existing vaccines. Why?
A: The main reason I think that is because there’s a particular mutation in the U.K. variant that removes two different (portions) of the spike protein, and that tucks in a bit of protein that was sticking out and was an antibody target. So it removes that target for antibodies.
And there was a study from a lab in Cambridge where they took serum from people who had recovered from #COVID and measured it against wild type virus and against viruses that have this deletion. And they saw that the antibodies of the recovered individuals neutralize the mutated virus significantly less than the wild type virus.
If I had to hazard a guess, I believe we could see a modest reduction, like from 95% vaccine effectiveness to 85% or so, but I don’t think it would really severely inhibit the vaccine.
Q: What does the rapid emergence of this new variant suggest about the future? Are we going to eventually see strains that are resistant to all of vaccines?
A: It was surprising to me, and I think, to most evolutionary virologists. The evolutionary mechanism definitely appears to be selection for more transmissibility. The virus evolves to more transmissible because that’s what evolution is selecting for.
Most people haven’t yet been infected and don’t have immunity, but as we have more and more individuals with immunity from natural infection or vaccination, you do have more evolutionary pressure on the virus to evolve in ways that escape from that immunity.
However, my main expectation here comes from what we know about seasonal coronavirus, which account for 30% of common colds. We can look at their evolution and they seem to infect people every three years or so and evolve at a slightly slower rate than influenza. That suggests to me a kind of flu-like pattern where you might need to update the vaccine every two or three years, and where evolving strains might be able to reinfect people on that sort of time scale as well.