If you have read the recent news about a mutation in the Pfizer vaccine for SARS-CoV-2, then you are probably wondering how it affects the immune system and how it may affect your life. In this article, I will go over some of the information you need to know.
SARS-CoV-2 variants with or without mutations
There are multiple variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus circulating worldwide, and the emergence of new variants has begun since late 2020. These variants differ in sequence, and may have different attributes, such as infectivity, or transmissibility. Understanding how these viruses mutate is critical to understanding their pathogenicity.
Scientists are now able to identify new variants through sequencing. This process allows for rapid identification of these mutations, and helps scientists track changes in the virus. However, the consequences of these changes are not fully understood. Therefore, there is a need for targeted surveillance, and experiments to evaluate the phenotypic effects of these variants.
Variants are classified according to their genetic characteristics, which predict their likelihood of evasion of immunity and infectivity. They may be categorized as benign or deleterious, and may alter the properties of the virus such as antigenicity, transmissibility, or functional properties.
Vaccines are not effective against all variants, and the best approach for preventing an outbreak is to prevent transmission at the source. This is done through measures such as hand washing, good ventilation, and physical distancing.
A small percentage of mutations in the SARS-CoV-2 genomes are expected to affect infectivity, antigenicity, and functional properties, while the majority are neutral or deleterious. Some of these changes may have clinical implications, and the WHO has designated a small number as ‘variants of concern’.
COVID-19 vaccines curb infections and prevent further mutations
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, experts are working to devise new vaccines to combat the virus and prevent further mutations. The current vaccines are effective, but they have their own set of challenges.
There are two subvariants of the COVID-19 virus that have been more aggressive than expected. One variant, called the omicron, is believed to evade immunity created by previous infections. Moreover, the omicron version spreads faster than the delta variant.
This has resulted in a sharp increase in cases of the disease. In the United States, the omicron version accounts for nearly all of the COVID-19 cases. However, this version of the disease is less severe than the delta version.
A bivalent COVID-19 vaccine has also been developed. This type of vaccine will target the mutated spike protein. This is one of the virus’s primary proteins that latches onto cells to enter. Most existing vaccines use this protein to trigger the immune system.
Scientists have been tracking mutations of the COVID-19 virus for a few years. Recently, a fast-spreading variant was detected in the UK. It is not yet known why it spreads so quickly.
Researchers are working to design boosters that will target this and other new variants. Boosters can also be helpful in preventing symptoms in COVID cases.
501Y mutation results in no reduction in neutralization activity
Pfizer has announced that the COVID-19 vaccine it developed with BioNTech SE has not reduced neutralization activity against the SARS-CoV-2 variant 501Y. The company states that these results are in line with their expectations and that it is prepared to react to further SARS-CoV-2 mutations.
This variant was first identified in the United Kingdom, and is causing concern in other parts of the world. It is estimated that it is 61% more lethal than the wild-type strain.
Scientists speculate that the mutation enhances the coronavirus’s ability to bind to receptor ACE2 on human cells. However, researchers also say that it does not increase the risk of contracting the disease. Instead, it disrupts the antibodies’ ability to interact with the RBD.
Researchers have also found that the South African variant of SARS-CoV-2 is less susceptible to neutralization than other variants. While this may be because the virus has lost its recognizable appearance, scientists are also examining the potency of the antibodies’ neutralization.
The N501Y mutation affects a key part of the spike protein, which helps the virus attach to human cells. Researchers have said that this mutation disrupts the ability of antibodies to bind to the RBD and may result in weakened T and B cell cooperation.
Pfizer says it has a number of additional mutations that it is testing the COVID-19 vaccine against. These include mutations in the M and E gene, which compromise the virus’s infectivity.