Are Covid vaccines effective against newly discovered mutated strains? Top health agencies in the US will find out through a study.
White House health advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci said Wednesday that health authorities will collaborate to determine how effective Covid-19 vaccines are against mutated strains of the virus that were detected in countries like UK and South Africa.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is accelerating the country’s capability to hold genomic sequencing and monitor for mutated strains, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said Wednesday at a White House Covid-19 briefing.
Dr. Fauci said that the National Institutes of Health and the CDC will work together to evaluate the vaccines’ effectiveness against new variants of the virus.
“We will be monitoring in real time the effect of antibodies that we induce with current vaccines and future vaccines as to what impact they have on the ability to neutralize these mutants,” Dr. Fauci said Wednesday.
The infectious diseases expert said that if new variants start to show that the vaccines will be significantly less effective, scientists can resort to options such as “making a version of the same vaccine that in fact would be directed specifically against the relevant mutant.”
Dr. Fauci and other officials at the briefing discussed three variants of concern: the B.1.1.7 strain, which was found in the UK, B.1.351, which was detected in South Africa, and P.1, which has emerged in Brazil. Scientists are trying to understand if the strains spread more easily or make people more severely sick. The B.1.1.7 strain, for instance, seems to spread more easily and officials in the UK mentioned that it could make people more sick.
Dr. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, explained that the currently authorized vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna are still highly effective against the B.1.1.7 strain, but “things get a bit more problematic” with the B.1.351 strain that surfaced in South Africa. He pointed out that vaccine-induced antibodies might be less effective in fighting that strain, but “it still is well within the cushion of protection.”
“You could diminish the vaccine-induced antibody efficacy by a few fold and still be well within the protective range of the vaccine,” he said.
Moderna said Monday that its coronavirus vaccine could be less effective against the B.1.351 strain in South Africa, and that the company is working on a booster shot to address that variant just in case.
Dr. Fauci said Wednesday that the federal government will work with the vaccine manufacturers to produce these so-called booster shots to make sure that fhe US is “a step or two ahead.” He stressed that “we have to be concerned looking forward at what the further evolution of this might be.”
Dr. Fauci also mentioned that the monoclonal antibody treatments, which could be potential outpatient therapy for Covid-19, “are more seriously inhibited” by the new strain spreading in South Africa.
Walensky, President Joe Biden’s CDC director, reported that 293 cases linked with B.1.1.7 strain dominant in the U.K. have been determined in the U.S. Earlier this week, the Minnesota Department of Health announced its first known US case of the P.1 strain that was detected in Brazil.
Dr. Fauci assured that Pfizer and Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccines can be easily adapted to address the mutated strains.
This is possible through the newly developed mRNA technology used to make the vaccines.
“We’re already trying to stay one or two steps ahead of the game so that if, in fact, we have a situation where the South African strain is prevalent here — it’s here, but it’s certainly not dominant — you want to really get ahead of it from a protection standpoint,” Fauci said. “You’re going to want to have a vaccine that specifically addresses that strain.”
“You don’t have to do a 30,000 person trial or a 40,000 person trial,” Fauci said. “You work with the FDA and you could bridge information from one trial to another. Bottom line is we’re already on it.”