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Scientists study new UK coronavirus variant to determine how it responds to vaccine

7 months 6 days 1 hour ago Monday, December 21 2020 Dec 21, 2020 December 21, 2020 8:20 AM December 21, 2020 in News
Source: CNN
Generic image of a scientist conducting research in a laboratory.

As England takes measures to protect itself from the recently discovered mutated variant of novel coronavirus, U.S. researchers are working to determine how it responds to the healthcare community's current vaccines.

According to CNN, scientists at Maryland's Walter Reed Army Institute of Research expect to know in the next few days if the coronavirus vaccines might not work against a mutated variant.

The Institute's Director, Dr. Nelson Michael, expects the vaccine to be effective.

He touched on this recently, saying, ""It stands to reason that this mutation isn't a threat, but you never know. We still have to be diligent and continue to look." 

As of Thursday, the Walter Reed team had already begun examining genetic sequences of the new UK variant posted online by British researchers, CNN reports.

This computer analysis is a first step to possible lab studies that may be required as a follow-up. 

CNN explains that if the computer analysis show there's a concern, then studies would need to be done in the laboratory and in animals to more definitively determine if the vaccine will work on this variant.

In the meantime, residents of England are on lockdown, with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announcing the country's closure during Saturday, Dec. 19 press conference Saturday.

"There's no evidence to suggest the vaccine will be any less effective against the new variant. Our experts will continue their work to improve our understanding as fast as we can," Johnson said.

The UK's chief scientific advisor,Dr. Patrick Vallance, added a similar perspective, saying, "Our working assumption at the moment from all of the scientists is that the vaccine response should be adequate for this virus."  

In the US, two vaccines are authorized for use in fighting COVID-19, one by pharmaceutical company Pfizer and the other by Moderna. Both are successful in equipping inoculated individuals with the ability to fight the virus by creating a genetic blueprint for the spikes that appear on the surface of the novel coronavirus. When the patient's immune system "sees" the spikes, it learns how to launch an attack against them.

According to CNN, as with other new variants or strains of COVID-19, this one carries a genetic fingerprint that makes it easy to track, and it happens to be one that is now common; that does not mean the mutation has made it spread more easily, nor does it not necessarily mean this variation is more dangerous.

The news outlet adds that in August, the Walter Reed team published a study showing the vaccines still worked against several other mutations of the coronavirus.

The vaccines are still useful because viruses have a tendency to shift or mutate constantly, but typically not in ways that would render a vaccine useless, explained Dr. William Schaffner, an advisor to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on vaccines.

He compared this shifting tendency of viruses to a person who changes clothing, but remains the same person despite the new garments. 

"Even with mutations, the virus essentially stays the same," Schaffner explained. "It's like with a person. I can switch out my brown coat for a gray coat, but I'm still Bill Schaffner. I've changed something, but I'm still the same person." 

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