Concerns about new corona variants; what does this mean for vaccines?

It had some feet in the earth, but now in the Netherlands we have been vaccinating against corona for more than two weeks: a gently flickering light at the end of the tunnel.

And then the virus mutations came. First the British, then also the South African and the Brazilian.

โ€œ We see a decrease in the number of cases, but at the same time we see a dark cloud hanging,โ€ said Jaap van Dissel Wednesday in the House of Representatives. Turns out the dark cloud is a rain shower that floods the tunnel? Three questions and answers about the mutations and vaccinations.

1. What do we know about the effectiveness of current vaccines in coronamutations?

The British variant is different from previous mutations because it is estimated to be around 30% more contagious. That‘s why Pharmaceutical Pfizer looked in the lab for antibodies in the blood of vaccinated individuals. These antibodies appear to neutralize the British variant as well as the classical corona variant.

โ€œ This is an important indication that the vaccine is also effective against the British variant,โ€ says spokesman Jan Willem the Lord of Pfizer.

For the South African variant it is slightly different. This mutation seems to cause the virus to adhere to human cells faster and stronger.

It does this just like the original coronavirus through the so-called spike protein on the outside of the virus. Most existing vaccines ensure that your immune system recognizes that spike protein. Since the spike protein does not seem substantially different in all known variants, the theory is that vaccines also work in those cases.

Demissionary Minister De Jonge wants to postpone the second Pfizer prick to vaccinate more people faster:

But South African researchers found this week that the natural antibodies of people who have previously had corona are unlikely to prevent you from being infected with the South African variant. If our own immune system does not produce the right antibodies to recognize the South African variant, the question is whether the vaccines do.

Pfizer is now investigating that with blood from vaccinated individuals in the lab. Soon this will happen with the Brazilian variant, says Pfizer.

2. What if a vaccine proves to be ineffective?

Research may show that vaccines work less well against, for example, the South African variant, but that does not mean that they do not work at all, says Jan Willem de Heer: โ€œThe existing vaccine uses different locations on the spike protein.โ€

The existing vaccines may not protect against infection with the South African variant, but they will prevent you from getting seriously ill. Professor of Vaccinology Anke Huckriede of the UMCG: โ€œThe in vitro lab research looks at only about 10 percent of all antibodies, the so-called neutralising antibodies. Other antibodies cannot be measured in this way, but they help protect against the virus.โ€

If the research carried out by the pharmaceutical companies in the lab showed that the neutralising antibodies do not completely eliminate the South African variant, it does not mean that an adapted vaccine is needed. Huckriede: โ€œIn flu vaccines, we know how many neutralising antibodies we need to measure in vitro to assess whether a vaccine is still effective. For the coronavirus, we don’t know that yet.โ€

3. How quickly can a vaccine be adjusted?

According to pharmaceuticals and experts, this can be done relatively quickly, especially in the case of the MRNA vaccines, which include Pfizer and Moderna. โ€œThe reason for choosing this technique is because it is flexible,โ€ says Jan Willem de Heer.

MRNA vaccines use a piece of genetic material to make your body produce a portion of the coronavirus‘s spike protein itself and then produce antibodies to that spike protein. An adjustment in the vaccine therefore requires only a change in the genetic code that encourages the creation of the spike protein, says Anke Huckriede: โ€œYou can theoretically achieve that in hours.โ€

Next, of course, it still needs to be produced on a large scale, but before that time, a bureaucratic process is also going on. According to the Board for Evaluation of Medicines (CBG), new data from pharmaceuticals will certainly be requested if a vaccine needs to be adapted. Which dates depend on the amount of changes in the spike protein and โ€œthe possible effects of this on the vaccineโ€, according to the CBG.

At the moment, it is assumed that not the complete procedure should be redone, says the CBG based on knowledge that there is about how vaccines work. Data collection on the functioning of the modified vaccines can โ€œmost likely be done in clinical trials that are much smaller thanthe studies necessary for approval. ‘ With it, the procedure should โ€œlast weeks, not months.โ€

This week also started vaccination in nursing homes: