Scientists have yet to agree on whether this is a cause for alarm yet.
Beneath the eager anticipation for the vaccine around the world, there is an underlying concern that the coronavirus may have already mutated again to render it ineffective.
New scientific results are emerging from the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center, of the University of Columbia, which suggests that the South African and UK covid-19 variants are exhibiting signs of resistance to antibody treatments. They conclude that variants may cause vaccines to be less effective.
The study was published in Nature academy journal in March 2021, after an initial peer-review that began three months earlier.
The research’s findings seem to complement vaccine effectiveness numbers that are only now emerging.
The Novavax vaccine was 90 per cent effective in the UK variant, and only 49 per cent effective in South Africa.
David Ho, director of the Aaron Diamond AIDS research center spoke at a press conference where he shared concerns that the virus is “travelling in a direction that is causing it to escape from our current vaccines.”
“If the rampant spread of the virus continues and more critical mutations accumulate, then we may be condemned to chasing after the evolving coronavirus continually, as we have long done for the influenza virus,” he warns.
Normally, after being vaccinated your immune system learns to fight the weakened virus and produces antibodies for the task of eliminating it.
In their research, they found that the antibodies of the people who had received the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine were less effective at fighting the UK and South African covid-19 variant.
The vaccines were nearly half as effective on the UK variant, and up to 6 times less effective for the South African variant.
For the UK variant, that shouldn’t be a cause for concern, because a large amount of antibodies still remain. For the South African variant, that poses a challenge to fighting the virus. Left unstudied was the more recent Brazil variant that shows significant similarities to the South African variant.
For now, the research center advises pushing for more vaccines while they are still effective to slow down the spread, and in turn prevent more mutations.
No cause for alarm
While it’s true that vaccines are nearly half as less effective against the new variants, that’s still not a reason to alarm.
The vaccines are highly potent, and even with weaker antibodies, they are likely to be just as ultimately effective against the virus.
From a public health stance, even in the worst-case scenario vaccines will still prevent severe cases of the coronavirus or death.
Scientists have yet to determine whether the new variants are more lethal than the original strain that started the pandemic.
Until then, public health officials remind that the variants have spread everywhere, going on to emphasize the need to maintain social distancing and wear a mask, even as spring approaches.
This research comes highly anticipated, as lawmaker and government leaders want to know whether the vaccines will be rendered useless.
Vaccine manufacturers are also eying the situation, based on which they may be forced to update the vaccine. Moderna is in the process of updating its vaccine based on the new variants.
Other vaccines have had different luck. The Johnson and Johnson vaccine proves itself 72 percent effective against the South African variant, and 64 percent effective against the British variant.
It remains to be seen whether these results will hold up in the actual world, instead of the lab. Until scientists know whether vaccinated people could still be covid-19 carriers, whether vaccines help asymptomatic people, or how long the vaccine’s protection lasts, they advise everyone to take the vaccine as soon as possible.