COVID-19 vaccine efficacy could depend on virus' mutation rate

COVID-19 vaccine efficacy could depend on virus' mutation rate
Posted at 3:05 PM, Oct 07, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-08 09:06:33-04

As the COVID-19 pandemic progresses, researchers say it is important to track how the coronavirus mutates because it could affect the efficacy of a vaccine.

Like all living cells, viruses evolve their chemical make-up changes. In viruses like the flu, that happens frequently, which is why every year there is a new vaccine to treat whatever strain is expected to circulate. With COVID-19, however, those mutations happen much slower, according to research out of Arizona State University.

“One of the things we’re still keeping an eye on is the evolution of this virus because that virus is still around in the community,” said Dr. Efrem Lim, an assistant professor at ASU. “Everyone is coming in blind to this. This is a novel virus. This isn’t something we have seen before.”

In March, Arizona State University played host to our country’s fourth COVID-19 case. As soon as it was detected, Dr. Lim started studying how the virus mutates and sent his findings to the World Health Organization. It's something that still continues to this day.

“This virus, overall, mutates pretty slowly, which is a good thing,” said Dr. Lim. “However, we can have instances where the virus can have very large, dramatic, mutations, such as deletions in the genome.”

While rare, Dr. Lim says those mutations can be significant as it changes how the virus acts inside the body.

Currently, scientists are focusing much of their efforts on identifying ways to eliminate the function of the spike protein in COVID-19, as it is the way the virus binds to our cells and infects them (spike proteins are the stalks that protrude from the center of the virus that make it so recognizable).

“It is very good news that the virus is not changing rapidly,” said ASU virologist Dr. Brenda Hogue. “We will have to see over time, as the virus continues to circulate, as we put a vaccine into play, whether or not there will be any issues.”

Dr. Lim says right now there does not appear to be any issues because the virus mutates slowly, but he adds it could adapt to a vaccine once one begins to circulate.

He says more testing needs to be done to determine that, however.

The Rebound West Michigan: Resources
Arbor Financial Credit Union (sponsor) Forest View Hospital (sponsor) Asian Pacific American Chamber of Commerce (Michigan) Choose Michigan Farmer Relief Fund Going Pro in Michigan Grand Rapids Chamber Rapid Response Fund Local First Michigan Apprenticeships Michigan Bureau of Labor Market Information and Strategic Initiatives Michigan Career Events Calender Michigan Career Explorer Michigan COVID-19 Mobility Solutions Grant Michigan Department of Treasury Michigan Economic Development Corporation Michigan Emergency Relief Fund nonprofit and cultural grants Michigan Labor Education and Training Michigan Northern Initiatives business loan Michigan Pathfinder student career planner Michigan PPE procurement and donation Michigan Rehabilitation Services Michigan Small Business Development Center Michigan Small Business Relief Program Michigan Strategic Fund Awardee Relief Initiative Michigan Tech Startup Stabilization Fund Michigan Training Connect Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency Employee FAQs Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency Employer FAQs Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency Toolkit for Claimants Michigan Veterans' Employment Services Michigan Works! Association Michigan Workforce Development Michigan Youth Employment Pure Michigan Talent Connect The Right Place Urban League of West Michigan U.S. Small Business Administration Michigan District Offices West Michigan Asian American Association