Health facilities have started delivering vaccine doses across the country. Could mutations in the virus affect the vaccine’s effectiveness rate?
On January 21, scientists at Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio discovered two new strains of SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for COVID-19. The mutant strains were found to be similar to those in Great Britain and South Africa; However, after further investigation, the researchers claimed that this new “Columbus strain” had various mutations that had not previously been seen in the virus.
Since the national pandemic started in March, Ohio has reported approximately 900,000 COVID-19 cases. Of those numbers, 11,000 people have died and thousands more have been left in critical conditions. From the sheer number of victims, the blow to our global economy and the impact the virus has had on our daily lives, it is clear that this virus, which has spread rapidly around the world in two short months, is fundamentally different from any other pathogen we have encountered so far differs. How did the virus spread around the world so quickly? And what can we do to prepare for this new mutant strain?
Sarah Bagby, Assistant Professor of Biology at Case Western Reserve University, identifies several ways SARS-CoV-2 differs from other pathogens we’ve seen before. Bagby notes that the intrinsic biology of the virus responsible for COVID-19 is fundamentally different from others. In contrast to other viruses, SARS-CoV-2 can attack a large number of tissues.
“In severe cases, doctors need to treat not only respiratory disease, but also respiratory disease, kidney disease, heart disease, etc., all at the same time for the same patient, ”said Bagby. With COVID-19, the virus initially causes breathing difficulties, but can later lead to massive organ failure in many different systems.
Bagby also notes that the virus is much newer than others. The first case of COVID-19 was reported in late 2019. In just over a year, two million people have died as a result of the virus. In addition, the pandemic has hit healthcare workers hard, both physically and mentally. “In many places over the past year, in many places, there simply wasn’t enough space, equipment, medication, or medical staff to apply this hard-earned knowledge and help more patients pull through, ”said Bagby.
On December 14, 2019, a year after the first virus was found in Wuhan, China, the first COVID-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer was administered. Different versions of the vaccine were soon made by competing pharmaceuticals such as Moderna, Sinovac, and Johnson & Johnson. Pfizer and BioNTech have reported their vaccines to be 95% effective, and other vaccines give similar percentages. It is important to note that these vaccines were primarily tested on the original strain of SARS-CoV-2.
Soon after the vaccine was created and administered, the Columbus strain was discovered by researchers at Ohio State University. Bagby notes that mutation is not uncommon; Rather, mutation is a natural process that occurs in all biological organisms when DNA is not replicated properly. Strands of DNA are replicated by enzymes and pass on genetic information to newer cells.
“You can think of mistakes in these enzymes as typographical errors, and they are a great source of mutations. Some viruses use resources to correct their work and fix errors. others don’t and they acquire mutations faster, ”she reported.
Unsurprisingly, the virus mutated. After all, SARS-CoV-2 viruses have infected hundreds of thousands of people worldwide.
It is uncertain whether vaccines made by leading pharmaceutical companies can target the new Columbus strain with the same efficiency. “To the best of our knowledge, we do not yet have any data on changes in mortality rates associated with these mutations, ”said Bagby.
Ohio State University scientists are conducting additional tests on the new virus to examine the transmission and symptoms of these variants. Other experts predict that one of these strains will be more contagious among those found in South Africa, Great Britain, and Columbus. However, these variants don’t necessarily have the same effects as the original strain and could actually be less lethal. More data is needed to properly characterize all new variants.
The university recommends that students continue to take existing measures to keep COVID-19 positivity rates low. So far, CWRU has taken various measures to keep transmission rates to a minimum. The switch to saliva testing in October resulted in a significant increase in the number of people who could be tested weekly. A month later, as rates skyrocketed across sites, the CWRU was issuing logs of on-site accommodation. Finally, during the spring semester, CWRU worked with government officials to secure vaccination doses for first responders and those involved in clinical care. These measures have kept COVID-19 rates low.
“Despite Cuyahoga County’s weekly positivity rates increasing by up to 25 percent in November and December, Case Western Reserve’s highest rate during the semester was 2.28 percent,” the university reported.
Although rates were low in the fall semester, the university notes that in colder weather, people may spend more time indoors, where the risk of transmission is higher. The university is re-implementing measures to protect the health and safety of CWRU students and predicts that these measures should also help protect against the new exposure.
When asked what precautions individuals should take against COVID-19, Bagby said, “There aren’t really any secrets here. Wash your hands Wear your mask. Get vaccinated as soon as you are eligible. In the meantime, avoid prolonged indoor contact with other people, especially without a mask. “She concluded with a message to the students:” If, like me, you want the pandemic to be over, the best thing to do is to remember that it still has not and act accordingly.