Will new mutation of coronavirus outsmart vaccines? Expert weighs in

Medical Watch
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Will the new SARs-COV-2 mutation circulating in the United Kingdom outsmart vaccines? WGN News asked a coronavirus expert to weigh in on the latest COVID-19 questions.

“So, all viruses change over time,” said Lurie Children’s infectious disease specialist Dr. Taylor Heald-Sargent.

Coronaviruses are no different, though they tend to change a little slower. So far, each mutation of SARS-COV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 hasn’t been significant. This latest variation?

“What we don’t know is how that mutation is going to affect the spread and severity of illness,” Dr. Heald-Sargent said. “It seems like right now this mutation is in an area the spike protein that is allowing it to spread a little more easily, to transmit, but it doesn’t seem to be making the infections worse.”

It’s the same spike protein that both Pfizer and Moderna vaccines target to prevent the virus from invading human cells.

Dr. Heald-Sargent said there is no evident the mutation will reduce vaccine efficacy, but more research is needed.

“The beauty of this vaccine is that it is easily changed we were able to create it so quickly because it’s using the genetic code and making manipulations so it can be changed if we need it to be, but right now it doesn’t need to be,” the doctor said.

For COVID-19 survivors, there are questions; should they get the vaccine and when?

“We do recommend people that have had COVID, if they are in the high-risk groups that are getting vaccines now,” said Dr. Heald-Sargent. “Get the vaccine and when it becomes available for your group get it, as long as you are over 20 days outside of the start of your illness. And that is because the immunity from the vaccine might be a little bit different than the immunity from your natural infection.”

But even with the first dose in your arm, there have been several reports of allergic reactions to the Pfizer vaccine – some severe.

“Yes, it is a rare side effect, but it is very rare compared to how many people are getting severe COVID,” Dr. Heald-Sargent said. “And the other thing about side effects people often complain, ‘Oh my arm hurts.’ or ‘I get chills, and I don’t want to feel sick.’ That’s what we want to happen, and that means you are developing your antibody response and immune response and then hopefully it will be able to respond if you get the actual infection.”

For those on the frontlines, the vaccine offers more than physical protection. Dr. Heald-Sargent got her injection just before she spoke with us.

“I’ll tell you I was literally skipping out of the office this morning to get my vaccine,” Dr. Heald-Sargent said. “Right now is really the darkest days. We have so many people in the hospital, so many people getting sick, and it’s really given us hope. And we just need to keep doing what we’ve been doing.”

Researchers are now gearing up for vaccine studies in children and pregnant women; another critical step forward in the fight against COVID-19.

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