Vaccines and Variants – The Story So Far

Vaccines and Variants – The Story So Far

There is no shortage of debate surrounding the COVID-19 vaccines, and more recently whether new variants affect the efficacy of them. As more vaccines are distributed and administered, data has allowed many questions about efficacy and safety to be answered. While no one yet has all the answers, here is a summary of what we know so far.

Why the Vaccines Weren’t Rushed

After confirmation from a number of pharmaceutical companies announcing that their clinical trials results were positive and the FDA approving the vaccines, many wanted to know how they could trust a vaccine that they felt had been rushed.  A head start certainly helped to speed thing up, over a decade of behind-the-scenes research that had new vaccine technology poised for a challenge just as the coronavirus erupted. By building on existing long-term data, the timeline to creating an effective vaccine was shortened. Corona virus research received an unprecedented amount of funding which allowed more resources to be directed towards research for an effective vaccine. Additionally, a never before seen level of collaboration between researchers in the field occurred, allowing each company to benefit from key findings. Experts stress that safety regulations were followed and no corners were cut. This means that the vaccine was tested to the same degree as any other vaccine going to market. The haste did not come from cut corners in research, but from an acceleration of administrative processes. Given the urgency with which the population needed a vaccine, the COVID-19 vaccine was given priority administratively. Regulatory bodies had members doing the foundational work prior to actually seeing the final data, so they were ready to review it very quickly. Unfortunately, the huge number of infections meant scientists didn’t have to wait long to learn that the shots appeared to be working.

mRNA Vaccines Don’t Alter DNA

Another concern that has been raised is whether the COVID-19 mRNA vaccines are capable of altering your DNA. The piece of mRNA is never in contact with a person’s DNA. DNA is protected by being in the nucleus, mRNA is translated into proteins by ribosomes, ribosomes occur in the cytoplasm as such it has no effect on DNA.

Low Percentage of Allergic Reactions

While the benefits of the vaccine cannot be over stated, adverse events tend to be overly reported on and inflated. There were only 15 cases of anaphylaxis with the Moderna vaccine and 45 with the Pfizer vaccine. This translates to the percentage of people that will experience a reaction such as this after receiving the vaccine as 0,00021% and 0.00062%. Anaphylaxis can be quickly countered with antihistamines in tandem with adrenaline injections in the tiny portion of people that will have an allergic reaction to the vaccine. To date, there have not been any deaths reported due to the vaccine.

Keeping Up with an Ever-Changing Virus

Given the above, the vaccine is as safe as vaccines given for other diseases and are highly effective – preventing death, reducing hospitalizations and reducing severity of symptoms caused by the first variants of COVID-19. What has not yet been established is whether it will be equally effective in the new variants that have started to arise. These variants have undergone mutations that impact the spike protein on the outer shell of the virus. Variants like the UK variant have only undergone a single mutation and are likely to respond well to the available vaccines. Other variants, like the Brazil and South African variants, have undergone multiple mutations. A paper published towards the end of January found that both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines had reduced efficacy against some variants by a small (yet significant) margin. Clinical trials have shown that most of the licensed COVID-19 vaccines are highly effective — far more effective than flu vaccines — which could give them some leeway when faced with variants. “The efficacy of the vaccine is so good and so high that we have a little bit of a cushion,” Rochelle Walensky, the new director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the Biden administration, said in an interview this week with JAMA.

In all likelihood future COVID-19 vaccines will need to be altered in order to cope with different variants. The flu vaccine demonstrates that new vaccines each season remains an effective way to curb transmissible diseases that mutate.


Article Author
Arthritis National Research Foundation

The Arthritis National Research Foundation's mission is to provide initial research funding to brilliant, investigative scientists with new ideas to cure arthritis and related autoimmune diseases. There are several ways to support research through the ANRF. Find out more and donate today.

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