Infectious Disease

US-approved COVID-19 vaccines look like “very protecting” of variants

February 23, 2021

5 min read

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Press briefing

Gandhi does not report any relevant financial information. Healio Primary Care was unable to confirm the relevant financial information from Gronvall and Pekosz at the time of publication.


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The global occurrence of SARS-CoV-2 variants has created public concern and confusion.

South Africa recently stopped rollout of the AstraZeneca-Oxford COVID-19 vaccine after preliminary data showed that the vaccine offers limited protection against the country’s dominant B.1.351 variant. This has raised concerns that COVID-19 vaccines may not protect against the emerging SARS-CoV-2 variants.

During a press conference tooth Gronvall, PhD, An immunologist and associate professor in the Department of Environmental Health and Technology at the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health said, “It’s pretty normal for viruses to mutate like this – almost all viruses do.”

What are variants?

In a recent article published in JAMA Anthony S. Fauci, MD, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and colleagues explained that variants form when mutations are selected through multiple rounds of virus replication.

“If the sequence variation produces a virus with significantly different phenotypic properties, the variant is referred to as a strain,” they wrote. “If, through genetic sequencing and phylogenetic analysis, a new variant is recognized as an independent branch on a phylogenetic tree, a new line is created.”

One of the notable variants of SARS-CoV-2 is B., which was first detected in the UK in October 2020. The strain appears to be more contagious, and some studies have shown it to be associated with a 30% increased risk of death.

The B.1.351 variant has two of the same mutations as B., which indicates that it has a “high transmission potential”. However, they wrote that there is currently no data to suggest that the variant is associated with an increased risk of death.

Andy Pekosz, PhDThe virologist, professor and vice-chairman of the division of molecular microbiology and immunology at the Bloomberg School of Public Health and co-director of the Johns Hopkins Center of Excellence in Influenza Research and Surveillance said some variants are more worrisome than others. “It is really important to keep track of all the changes that are building up in this virus as we never know when a major mutation will occur. “

He said viruses often mutate, and most of those mutations are bad for the virus itself and go away quickly. However, the remaining mutations usually do not affect the properties of the virus in humans.

Very rarely do the mutations give the virus an “advantage”, but it’s important to track the variants to see which mutations changed the properties of the virus, Pekosz said.

“We talk a lot about virus sequencing, but it’s also important to keep track of things like case numbers, disease severity, and changes in infected populations, as all of these things have signaled that the virus has mutated in ways that have changed its properties “Said Pekosz.

What else works

During the press conference, Gronvall said these variants are not “magic” and “many of the things we have done during this pandemic will continue to work when it comes to these variants.” For example, masking and ventilation continue to work against the variants.

Diagnostic tests are effective on these variants as well, Gronvall said, explaining that “almost all tests on the market should still be able to tell if there is an infection – they won’t be false false-negative results.”

However, she noted that the FDA is monitoring this issue and will notify manufacturers and the public of concerns about diagnostic tests and COVID-19 variants.

Gronvall said that emergency-approved vaccines in the US – both Moderna and Pfizer vaccines – appear to be “very protective” against variants of COVID-19.

Fauci and colleagues wrote that current preliminary data on the Johnson & Johnson vaccine suggest the vaccine was 72% effective against COVID-19 in the US, 66% in Brazil, and 57% in South Africa. They also said data on the Novavax vaccine showed it was 89% effective in the UK and 60% effective in South Africa. Viral sequence data show that the B.1.351 strain was responsible for most of the infections in South Africa during this time. While the vaccine’s effectiveness appeared to be less effective in South Africa, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was still 85% effective in preventing serious COVID-19 illnesses.

Monica Gandhi, MD, MPH, The professor of medicine and assistant director of HIV, Infectious Diseases and Global Medicine at the University of California in San Francisco told Healio Primary Care that she was “very optimistic” about the effectiveness of current COVID-19 vaccines, including against the variants . Their optimism is based on the high efficacy of current vaccines in preventing serious diseases, even in sites where these variants were in circulation.

“I’m really encouraged that the T-cell response produced by vaccines is likely to protect against serious disease against all the variants we have floating around now,” she said.

The occurrence of COVID-19 variants should not delay vaccinations, according to Gandhi. Instead, it’s still important to distribute COVID-19 vaccines. If enough people are “somewhat protected” against the virus, transmission will be “slower,” she said.

“The best way to get through these variants is to get vaccination because even if vaccines are a little less effective against mild illnesses with variants – diseases you might not normally have known about – it is Effectiveness of these vaccines Vaccines against major diseases, including variants, are necessary to protect a person, ”said Gandhi.

Therefore, doctors should encourage patients to receive the vaccine as soon as they are eligible, Gandhi said, reminding them to continue to practice infection prevention measures such as masking and physical distancing as this will continue to prevent and prevent further replication of the virus the spread of variants or the development of new variants.

looking ahead

When asked how well the vaccines prevent the transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and its variants, Gronvall said the vaccination was not a “bulletproof vest”.

Recent evidence, she said, shows that people who become infected despite being vaccinated appear to have lower viral loads than people without immunity, and this should help reduce transmission.

“Because of this, when you are with unvaccinated people, people still recommend that you still wear a mask and take these precautions until the community stops transmitting so you don’t run into the virus and not this Have the potential to share it with someone else, ”she said.

Gandhi stressed that the emergence of COVID-19 variants should not limit the ability of fully vaccinated individuals to “feel safe” and be more active. Still, “society is not yet going to collapse to normal,” she said.

“There will still be the need for masks and distancing for everyone in public because again you will not know that everyone next to you is vaccinated,” she said.


Mascola JR et al. JAMA. 2021; doi: 10.1001 / jama.2021.2088.

Press briefing


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