Why a particular coronavirus mutation has scientists' attention

  

Category:  News & Politics

Via:  perrie-halpern  •  one month ago  •  10 comments

By:   Denise Chow (NBC News)

Why a particular coronavirus mutation has scientists' attention
Scientists have zeroed in on a handful of mutations in the coronavirus that they say could pose new public health challenges if they circulate widely.

S E E D E D   C O N T E N T



Scientists have zeroed in on a handful of mutations in the coronavirus that they say could pose new public health challenges if they circulate widely.

Their focus: The tiny spike proteins that cover the outside of the virus.

It's these proteins that researchers have successfully targeted to create vaccines, using them to prime the body's immune system to make antibodies to fight the virus. But it's also where they've observed some mutations that have forced vaccine manufacturers to react. A variant first found in South Africa is of particular interest due to mutations to the virus's spike protein that can make antibodies less effective against it.

And while none of those changes seem to have resulted in a virus that's able to evade the current vaccines, it's an area of intense focus for coronavirus researchers.

"The spike protein is like the key that unlocks our cells," said Simon Clarke, an associate professor of cellular microbiology at the University of Reading in the United Kingdom. "If you have mutations on the spike protein, it could make that key work more effectively, or it could change the structure of the key ever so slightly so that it can still gain access to our cells and now antibodies can't bind to it and stop it from working."

An early analysis from Moderna found that while its vaccine appears to be less effective against the South African variant, antibodies remained above protective levels. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is only slightly less effective against the South African strain, according to a study that has not yet been peer-reviewed.

n_hallie_brk_astrazeneca_transmission_210203_1920x1080.focal-760x428.jpg

Oxford study: AstraZeneca vaccine drastically reduces Covid transmission


The coronavirus has likely undergone thousands of changes since it first spilled over into humans. Several different variants, including one that was first reported in the U.K. and another that is thought to have emerged in Brazil, are already being tracked worldwide.

But scientists remain anxious about the emergence of other coronavirus variants, especially if one emerges that renders the vaccines obsolete.

"Mutations can make a virus more transmissible or make a virus less susceptible to some antibodies, so that's always a big concern," Clarke said.

So far, the vaccines appear to protect against the known variants, said Dr. Bruce Y. Lee, a professor of health policy and management at the City University of New York. He added that even if a vaccine is less protective against one strain, there are likely still benefits, such as preventing more severe cases of Covid-19, which not only helps patients, but also minimizes the strain on hospitals and health care workers.

"It's like how even if a flu vaccine is 30 percent effective, we still recommend getting a flu shot," Lee said.

But that doesn't mean there aren't still risks — especially with the crucial role played by the virus's spike protein.

Both the South African variant and the U.K. variant contain a spike protein mutation called N501Y that is thought to make these strains more contagious. The South African variant also carries a mutation known as E484K, also on the spike protein, that could make it less susceptible to antibodies produced by the vaccines or ones built up from natural infection.

And since the vaccines target the spike protein, Lee said, there's a worry that mutations to this part of the virus could affect how well the vaccines work.

"If you change the spike protein enough, the question becomes: how will the immune response change?" he said. "The effectiveness of the vaccines really depends on our immune response to that spike protein."

Research is still ongoing but the observed declines in vaccine efficacy have already prompted Moderna to begin tweaking its existing vaccine to make it more effective against emerging strains. Although Moderna's vaccine appears to be protective against the known variants, the company's CEO Stephane Bancel said last month that the upgrades are being developed "out of an abundance of caution."

AstraZeneca and Oxford University, which jointly developed a vaccine that is authorized for use in the U.K. but not yet in the United States, announced Wednesday that they intend to produce an upgraded version to protect against the known variants that could be available in the fall.

And scientists are expecting more variants to emerge as the pandemic evolves. Scientists in the U.K. reported Tuesday that the E484K mutation seen in the South African variant has also been found in a small number of cases involving the U.K. strain in England.

"The more a virus replicates, the more chances you have for random changes," Lee said. "A lot of these changes won't make a difference, but every now and then, you'll get a change that gives the virus an advantage — making the virus better able to survive, replicate or infect people."

That prospect adds urgency for countries around the world to aggressively control the virus's spread, thereby limiting the opportunity for new, more problematic variants to circulate.

"What we do can really affect the trajectory of the pandemic in the coming weeks," Lee said.


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Buzz of the Orient
Professor Principal
1  Buzz of the Orient    one month ago
"The more a virus replicates, the more chances you have for random changes," Lee said. "A lot of these changes won't make a difference, but every now and then, you'll get a change that gives the virus an advantage — making the virus better able to survive, replicate or infect people."
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That prospect adds urgency for countries around the world to aggressively control the virus's spread, thereby limiting the opportunity for new, more problematic variants to circulate.

In other words, it must be contained as quickly as possible so that it does not mutate into even more deadly forms of the virus.  But it is not going to be contained quickly enough around the world.  Only the wealthier countries will get to contain it, but the poorer nations will have to wait and wait and wait for vaccines.  That is where the virus will continue to mutate until it will defy our immune systems.  No longer is that a pandemic, it is the apocalypse. 

601b3a29e4b01d3efe2caf23.jpg

Remember where HIV-AIDS started, and spread to America.

 
 
 
Nerm_L
Junior Principal
1.1  Nerm_L  replied to  Buzz of the Orient @1    3 weeks ago
In other words, it must be contained as quickly as possible so that it does not mutate into even more deadly forms of the virus.  But it is not going to be contained quickly enough around the world.  Only the wealthier countries will get to contain it, but the poorer nations will have to wait and wait and wait for vaccines.  That is where the virus will continue to mutate until it will defy our immune systems.  No longer is that a pandemic, it is the apocalypse. 

The health department, in the county where I live, reports receiving 100 doses of vaccine each week.  Since two doses are required, that means it will take over 1,000 weeks to vaccinate everyone.  That's more than 20 years.

So, please, don't whine about wealthy countries.  That whine isn't accurate and it's insulting.

 
 
 
Buzz of the Orient
Professor Principal
1.1.1  Buzz of the Orient  replied to  Nerm_L @1.1    3 weeks ago

Yes, well of course America requires an extraordinarily high number of vaccine doses, doesn't it.  Why is that?

 
 
 
Sean Treacy
Professor Participates
1.1.2  Sean Treacy  replied to  Buzz of the Orient @1.1.1    3 weeks ago

Because it has 337 million people. That's how vaccines work. Countries with a lot of people need a lot of vaccines. Countries with fewer, need less..

[deleted]

 
 
 
Greg Jones
Masters Participates
2  Greg Jones    one month ago
  That is where the virus will continue to mutate until it will defy our immune systems.  No longer is that a pandemic, it is the apocalypse. 

Uninformed opinion. The scientists will constantly be updating the vaccines. We'll likely need annual booster shots. Sadly, achieving herd immunity in poorer countries will take a few years.

Remember where HIV-AIDS started, and spread to America.

We do know where Covid-19 started and spread worldwide

 
 
 
mocowgirl
Professor Quiet
2.1  mocowgirl  replied to  Greg Jones @2    one month ago
Sadly, achieving herd immunity in poorer countries will take a few years.

Herd immunity may already be happening in India.   The below is sourced from cgtn which is China Global Television Network.  However, I saw a similar article on MSN today, but didn't pay attention to its source.

India's capital New Delhi is heading towards herd immunity from coronavirus, with over 50 percent of its nearly 20 million population projected to have developed antibodies to the coronavirus, according to a new study.

The fifth round of serological surveillance conducted in New Delhi has indicated that more than 50 percent of those surveyed have developed antibodies against COVID-19, Indian media reported citing government officials.

The survey was conducted by Delhi's local government in association with the National Center for Disease Control (NCDC). A total of 28,840 samples from the city's 11 districts were collected between January 11 and 22 with an initial report submitted to the health minister's office over the weekend.

"In one district, the prevalence is around 58 percent, which clearly shows that a large number of people have developed antibodies against the virus," a senior government official was quoted saying by the   Indian Express   newspaper. The final report is expected within a week.

A population is deemed to have attained herd immunity if 50 to 60 percent of the people are found to have developed antibodies during a sero-prevalence survey. When a large section of people have been infected by a virus and become immune by developing antibodies, it forms a layer between the infected and those who are not, resulting in breaking the chain of further infection.

Study suggests New Delhi heading to COVID-19 herd immunity - CGTN
 
 
 
Buzz of the Orient
Professor Principal
2.1.1  Buzz of the Orient  replied to  mocowgirl @2.1    one month ago

If that's so, then America shouldn't be so concerned about vaccinating everyone.  Let nature take its course.

 
 
 
mocowgirl
Professor Quiet
2.1.2  mocowgirl  replied to  Buzz of the Orient @2.1.1    3 weeks ago
If that's so, then America shouldn't be so concerned about vaccinating everyone.  Let nature take its course.

This week, I have read articles that vaccines won't necessarily prevent getting or spreading covid.  

It appears that covid may be here to stay.  The hope is that it won't mutate into a more lethal virus.

 
 
 
FLYNAVY1
Professor Expert
2.1.3  FLYNAVY1  replied to  mocowgirl @2.1.2    3 weeks ago

Ma Nature thinning out the herd.  

Normally mutations become less harmless over time.  A successful virus, bacteria, parasite, Etc. is one that can thrive in it's host without killing it.  If the host dies then more than likely the aforementioned critters die with it.

The main issue is proximity.  The more people there are, and the more closely packed they are, the better the virus spreads, and the better chance for a more virulent mutation to take hold in that community.

Could be worse..... read up on smallpox sometime.  

 
 
 
mocowgirl
Professor Quiet
2.1.4  mocowgirl  replied to  FLYNAVY1 @2.1.3    3 weeks ago
Ma Nature thinning out the herd.

I agree.  

Our species is willingly and knowingly breeding and polluting ourselves out of existence because of lack of leadership unwilling to set the proper examples by living sustainable lifestyles themselves.

 
 
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