All eyes are focused on a mutated strain of emerging corona virus that appeared in Britain, but fact that a mutation exists on or copies of virus is what worries scientists, because it may affect effectiveness of vaccines.
This mutation, called E484Ki, carries a mutated version that appeared in South Africa and recently in Brazil and Japan, but it was not detected on English mutated version, which is in headlines worldwide.
Ravi Gupta, a professor of microbiology at University of Cambridge, said in an interview with AFP that this mutation was ” most alarming” in terms of immune response.
Variants or mutations are different versions of original emerging coronavirus that appear over time due to different mutations. It is a normal phenomenon in life of virus, because mutations occur when it multiplies.
Many mutations have been recorded in SARSCove2 virus since its emergence, with vast majority having no effect. But some may give virus a survival advantage, including increased transmissibility.
The two mutated copies that appeared in England, South Africa and Japan ( last via travelers from Brazil) share a mutation called “N501Y” on stalk of virus (a protein lump that allows it to enter cells) and are suspected of making se variants more infectious.
Suspicions of a different nature surround E484K mutation. Lab tests have shown that it appears to be able to reduce ability of antibodies to recognize and neutralize virus.
As such, Professor Francois Ballou of London College, as quoted by British Science Media Center, explained, “(The mutation) can help virus bypass immune protection acquired after a previous infection or by vaccination.”
It is this potential ability to “immune evasion” that worries scientists, as it raises questions about effectiveness of vaccines in ir view.
On January 8th, Biontec and Pfizer, which manufactured one of world’s leading vaccines, confirmed that ir vaccine was effective against N501Y mutation, but ir laboratory tests did not focus on E484K mutation. Therefore, it is insufficient to conclude that effectiveness of vaccine will be same against mutants that carry this mutation as it is against traditional virus.
In addition, a study published on January 6 describes case of a Brazilian woman who contracted Covid in May and n contracted again in October with a variant carrying E484K mutation.
This second infection, more severe than first, may be a sign that mutation caused a weaker immune response in patient.
However, nothing indicates that this mutation is sufficient to make mutants resistant to current vaccines, say scientists.
“The beginning of problems”
In fact, even if it turns out that antibodies do not recognize this mutation well, y will be able to target or components in mutated viruses, in principle.
“Even if its efficiency declines, it will still be able to neutralize virus,” explained Vincent Inov of Institut Pasteur in Paris.
“I do not think that this mutation alone poses a problem for vaccines,” said immunologist Renault Rapoli, researcher and scientific director at giant pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline.
But this mutation “could be beginning of problems” for vaccines, according to Professor Gupta, who said that “at this stage, all vaccines are supposed to be effective, but what worries us is possibility of future mutations” added to those that are already being monitored, calling for ” Vaccination as quickly as possible everywhere in world. “
In face of emergence of new variants, many laboratories have confirmed that y are able to rapidly develop ir vaccines if necessary.