How would COVID-19 vaccine manufacturers adapt to the variants?
When adjusting your vaccines, a process that should be easier than creating the original vaccines.
Viruses constantly mutate as they spread, and most changes are not significant. First-generation COVID-19 vaccines appear to be working against current variants, but manufacturers are already taking steps to update their prescriptions if health authorities decide it is necessary.
Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines are made with new technology that is easy to upgrade. So-called mRNA vaccines use a piece of genetic code for the spike protein that coats the coronavirus, so your immune system can learn to recognize and fight the real virus.
If a variant emerges with a mutated spike protein that the parent vaccine cannot recognize, companies would swap that piece of genetic code for a better match, if regulators decide it is necessary.
Updating other COVID-19 vaccines could be more complex. The AstraZeneca vaccine, for example, uses a harmless version of a cold virus to carry that spike protein gene into the body. An update would require cold virus growth with the updated spike gene.
The Food and Drug Administration said studies of the updated COVID-19 vaccines will not have to be as large or as long as those of the first generation of injections. Instead, a few hundred volunteers could receive experimental doses of a revamped vaccine and have their blood tested for signs of boosting the immune system, as well as the original vaccines.
More difficult is deciding whether the virus has transformed enough to modify the injections.
Globally, health authorities will monitor coronavirus mutations for vaccine-resistant mutations. They would also have to decide whether any renewed vaccine should protect against more than one variant.
In general, the process would be similar to what already happens with the flu vaccine. Flu viruses mutate much faster than coronaviruses, so flu vaccines are adjusted every year and must protect against multiple strains.
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