It had not been too long since the good news of the Covid vaccine broke out, a piece of shocking news has surfaced which again bothered the world community and governments. A new strain of the covid virus has been found in the UK which is said to be 70% more infectious and is the result of around 20 mutations. Hence, we now are more concerned about this new covid strain. Different countries have imposed flight bans on the flights that are coming from the UK. The question is whether it is really alarming? Do we need to wait for another covid vaccine for this new strain? Is the virus more deadly than the previous one? Let us see in detail.
The variant is called VUI 202012/01 named after the date. This variant is known to be faster transmitting and has modified itself more than 14 times genetically. This means out of the 14 mutations, one of which is the UK variant called N501Y. You might already know, we call the virus SARS-CoV-2 while the disease as Covid-19. Health experts are believing that the existing covid vaccine still may work and would need additional research and development.
As mint reported, in almost a week, London has doubled the number of cases out of which around half of them are because of newly identified strain. To understand what the heck this entire scenario is all about, it is important to know what exactly mutation is.
What is a Mutation?
It simply means an alteration in the genetic structure of a living organism. A mutation is part of the life-cycle of every living organism and is a natural phenomenon.
As we all know the two main types of nucleic acids i.e. DNA and RNA. Both are made from nucleotides, each of them contains a five-carbon sugar chain, a phosphate group, and a nitrogen base. DNA (double-stranded) provides the code for the cell’s activities, while RNA (single-stranded) converts that code into proteins to carry out further cellular functions. The same is the case with the newly identified variant.
The health experts say, the UK variant N501Y, mutated in such a way that the virus now made itself more friendly to bind to the human receptors through its spikes. Remember how we have seen spikes on the corona-virus? These spikes are the tool by which this virus binds with the human cell receptors.
More Infectious Mean More Deadly?
Being an RNA-based virus, mutations are bound to happen. Because of the progressive mutation and changes in the RNA of this virus, it is said to be 70% more infectious. Whereas, the real question is “Does more infectious means lethal?”. Also, it has to be noted that the number 70% calculated approximately based on an overall estimation of positive cases and not actually infected. Therefore, more lab-scale experiments would be required to justify the %.
According to the health experts, there is no substantial evidence on the increased lethality of the mutated variant apart from the rapid infections. Needless to say, though the current time is worrying, scientifically it is too early to give importance to the variant unless lethal effects recorded on the ground and when the covid vaccine does not do its job.
Would We Require Different Covid Vaccine for this Mutated Variant?
United States Food and Drug Commissioner Scott Gottlieb during an interaction with CBS News, said “Unlikely” when asked about whether the new variant will escape the vaccine. This is somehow a satisfactory statement as scientists believe covid vaccines are to support your immune system and already cover little modifications in the virus strains.
This means only a mutation that has increased the binding-ability of the virus does not necessarily suggest the covid vaccine is incompetent for the new strain. Though, covid vaccines would need thorough analysis before concluding this, because there might be chances of something left behind while serving the need of the world on a fast-track basis.
Types of Vaccines
Currently, three main types of covid vaccines are in development that suggests our bodies to detect and trigger our immune system to protect us from the virus. Whereas, there are four types of vaccines exist.
- Live Attenuated Vaccines – Live viruses in their weakened form yet they can replicate without making you ill. May trigger disease in patients with weak immune systems.
- Inactivated Vaccines – Dead viruses that can not replicate yet trigger your immune system. No risk of triggering a disease as cells are dead.
|Deep-rooted and well-established technology||More shots may be required|
|Easy manufacturing process||Storage requirements are tight|
Non-dangerous proteins are capable to trigger immune system as well and hence considered a safe way to vaccinate. Upon vaccination, our immune system detects them and start to prepare antibodies and T-lymphocytes. Whenever we get infected, these will detect and fight the virus in future course of time. Best example of this is Hepatitis B vaccine.
Commonly known as mRNA, nucleic acid vaccines involve both RNA and DNA genetic material of virus which instruct the cells to prepare antigens to fight the virus.
Once our cells make protein copies, they crash the genetic material in the vaccine formulation. Antigen then is produced in large quantity strongly reacting the immune system and make body ready for future infection.
These vaccines are rarely processed for humans because of regulatory hurdles and requires storage in cryogenic temperature requirements.
Same as nucleic acid vaccines, the viral vector also instructs cells to prepare antigens but differ in a mechanism. Nucleic acid uses our own cells while viral vector triggers a strong immune response like fever and cold.
Definitely, it is the need of the time to try out the permutation and combination of the potentially expected mutations and the intensity of them on the covid vaccine performance. Sometimes, some genetic alterations may lead to vaccine escape.
What is the Vaccine Escape?
It is the ability of the virus to protect itself from the immune system by mutating its genetic structure. Or in other words, it is the inability of the host’s immune system to detect and destroy the mutated virus. Simply speaking, the virus escapes from the set vaccine trap.
Therefore, vaccine development requires thorough research for various possible mutations that a particular virus may adopt.
Will RT-PCRs Do The Job?
According to the WHO, the impact of new strain on existing tests seems negligible, “most PCR assays worldwide use multiple targets and therefore the impact of the variant on diagnostics is not anticipated to be significant”. As a matter of fact, the UK concluded their number of cases affected by the new variant based on their existing RT-PCR test kits.
How Many Shots of Covid Vaccine Do You Need?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), most of the covid vaccines would require more than one shot.
- First shot to improve the building blocks of our protective systems
- The second shot a few weeks later, to cover for the almost protection
As of now, there is no full-proof solution to Covid-19 disease and the covid vaccine. Even though the vaccine makes its way, we’re unsure of the long-term effects of this disease. The question here is, “Are the lockdown and restrictions really helpful in avoiding the virus spread?”. Definitely, the spread has impacted our physical, mental, and financial health in one way or another.
The vaccine will surely make its way through this crisis and will help the world community. Our responsibility is to stay healthy, follow government guidelines, manage finances well, and utilize the tech-revolution to its fullest.