Univ. Of Utah Doctor: Vaccine Should Work Against Mutant COVID-19 Strain In UK
Dec 21, 2020, 6:59 PM | Updated: 9:13 pm
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – A growing number of countries are suspending flights and restricting travel from the United Kingdom to slow the spread of a new mutant strain of COVID-19, but doctors say vaccines that have arrived in Utah should still work against this new strain.
Medical crews around the globe are working to learn more, saying they need to find out if it truly is more transmissible and whether it will dominate. A member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force said this mutant strain was first identified in September, and the concern is that it is becoming the dominant strain in England.
“The virus is going to mutate. That’s what viruses do,” said Dr. Sankar Swaminathan, chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at University of Utah Health.
He said some of these changes happened in the spike protein the virus uses to invade our cells.
“I can understand the concern because anytime you see a virus sort of take over and become the majority of cases, there’s that concern that it’s a more transmissible virus,” said Swaminathan.
European health officials think the coronavirus variant could be 70% more transmissible than other variants, calling it “significantly more transmissible.”
“That’s the main concern, is that the virus may have evolved to become better at infecting people,” said the infectious disease doctor.
There is no evidence that the mutant strain is more lethal, or that it would evade the vaccines now going into health care workers’ arms. Swaminathan said the vaccine directs our bodies to make antibodies against all parts of the coronavirus spike protein.
“Your body will make an antibody to this part, and this part, and this part,” He said pointing to different parts of the spike protein. “So you don’t just have one antibody.”
Once vaccinated, he said, our bodies will make several defenses against that spike protein, even if one part of it has mutated.
“While it’s possible for the virus to mutate and change its spike protein, it would be very difficult for it to change it so completely that the vaccine wouldn’t still elicit useful antibodies,” Swaminathan said.
While this strain could become the predominant strain, Swaminathan said it doesn’t change the main challenge.
“We need to protect ourselves until we can get enough people vaccinated to quash this,” he said.
He said it’s even possible the variant has already arrived in the United States, but this doesn’t change our behavior in protecting ourselves from the virus.