Are all new variants the same?
All viruses share a similar set of mutations in spike proteins – the part that locks on human cells – but they are not identical. All have originated in areas where there have been recent spikes at high speeds in Kovid cases.
Why have they popped up at the same time?
Scientists are not sure. It is speculated that they are products of common evolutionary pressure. One theory is that patients who have Kovid for an extended period of time are able to mutate the virus more efficiently. Britain, South Africa and Brazil all have many such cases.
Can they survive the vaccine?
Pfizer and AstraZeneca think their vaccines will still work against the UK variants. The jury is still on the remaining two. There is some laboratory work that suggests that the South African version may develop existing antibodies (produced by vaccines or natural infections) at some time. However, experts say that it is unlikely that a vaccine will suddenly stop working together. It is more likely that they will become less effective by increments as the virus changes.
Is this pattern normal?
Yes, respiratory viruses “drift” over time, and vaccines need to be constantly tweaked to keep up with them. This happens every year with seasonal flu jabs, for example.
How simple is the vaccine update process?
In theory it should be straightforward. As long as the changes required to apply the vaccine are minor (there are only four or five changes over the 1,000 amino acids of the spike protein) then new vaccines can be produced quickly and without long regulatory approval. New RNA vaccines, such as those made by Pfizer, can be replaced more rapidly than traditional vaccines.