By David Kennedy, Penn State | December 22, 2020 at 10:42 AM EST – Updated December 22 at 10:44 AM
If this new version of the virus is here to stay, as it appears to be, what does that mean? Will this new version of the virus replace the old one? Will it be easier to catch? And, most important, will the current vaccines still be effective?
What is the new SARS-CoV-2 mutant that has emerged?
If the changes to the spike protein help the virus enter human cells more easily, then the virus could be transmitted from person to person more readily.
These mutations may also alter how well the host’s immune system combats the virus, potentially reducing the efficacy of the current vaccines.
What is different about this new version of SARS-CoV-2?
If this increase in transmissibility is confirmed, it might be due to of the mutations in the spike protein allows it to bind more tightly to the ACE2 receptor, which provides a gateway for the virus to enter human cells.
But it might also be due to any of the other changes to the virus.
Is it more dangerous? If so, why?
If the new version, B.1.1.7, is indeed more transmissible than the old virus, it will be more dangerous in the sense that it will make more people sick.
Will the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines still be effective against this new strain?
Vaccine-virus mismatch is an ongoing challenge for scientists charged with developing the seasonal flu vaccine. But even with a virus-vaccine mismatch, the flu vaccine reduces the likelihood, and the severity, of disease.
The question is therefore not whether the vaccines will be effective, but rather how effective they will be. The severity of the mismatch matters, but the only way to determine its impact in this case is through scientific study, and to my knowledge, no data on that has yet been collected. In other words, it’s too early to say whether and how this new variant will influence the overall effectiveness of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.
Should people still get the new mRNA vaccine?
The appearance of this new B.1.1.7 makes it even more important that people get vaccinated as soon as possible.
If this new version is more transmissible, or if the vaccine is less effective because of a virus-vaccine mismatch, more people will need to be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity and get this disease under control.
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