Viruses have the fascinating property of changing over time and of sometimes drastically modifying the protruding protein structures of their shell. These mutations are about the reason why we can catch the flu again and again. They could also be the reason why people may have been infected with the coronavirus twice.
Because if a virus changes sufficiently as part of a mutation, our antibodies, which are already present due to a disease or a vaccination, can suddenly be ineffective.
This fact has also worried researchers with regard to a possible vaccination against the coronavirus. Because the virus is constantly developing and is now in a different form – as can be tracked on the Gisaid research platform, where researchers upload new genome sequences of the virus every day.
However, a study published last week in the journal “Nature” gives the all-clear and suggests that the vaccines currently being developed are also effective against the new mutation in the virus.
Old virus, new shape
Sars-CoV-2 is no longer the virus that we got to know in spring. Because of several mutations in the virus’s RNA code, it changed slowly but steadily in the course of the pandemic. Around 80 percent of the coronaviruses in circulation now have a mutation with the code number G614, which makes the virus even more infectious, according to an article in the journal “Cell”.
This is important for vaccine development insofar as these substances want to induce our immune system to form antibodies against Sars-CoV-2. Antibodies are particularly effective because they dock well to the external protein structures of the virus and thus prevent it from entering human cells. A changed structure of the virus could therefore nullify this effect.
As a research team led by the Australian virologist Alexander McAuley found out, the current G614 mutation of the coronavirus should not affect the effectiveness of future vaccines – even if these were still developed in relation to an “outdated” version of the virus, such as the “German Ärzteblatt ”reports.
Future vaccines will most likely work
According to the researchers, the reason for this is the fact that the change in the protein envelope of the virus is at a point that is not critical for the immune system.
The scientists checked this by subjecting the molecular structure of Sars-CoV-2 to a detailed examination. In addition, the immune defense against the old and the new strain of the coronavirus was examined in animal experiments and it was found that the antibodies were able to successfully neutralize all variants of the virus.
So relief for the vaccine researchers. Ultimately, the results mean that the future vaccines against Sars-CoV-2 will most likely be effective despite the current mutation.