Mutations could soon render current Covid vaccines ineffective: investigation


Bethany Smith administers a COVID-19 vaccination to a member of the public at a mass vaccination center for the Aneurin Bevan Health Trust on March 14, 2021 in Newbridge, Wales.

Huw Fairclough | Getty Images

Coronavirus mutations could render current vaccines ineffective in a year or less, according to a majority of epidemiologists, virologists and infectious disease specialists interviewed by the People’s Vaccine Alliance.

A survey of 77 experts from some of the world’s largest academic institutions in 28 countries found that two-thirds thought we had “a year or less before the virus mutated as the majority of vaccines in first generation are rendered ineffective and new or modified vaccines are required. “

Of those surveyed, almost a third gave a deadline of nine months or less. Less than one in eight said they believed mutations would never make current vaccines ineffective.

The survey, released Tuesday, was conducted by the People’s Vaccine Alliance – a coalition of more than 50 organizations, including the African Alliance, Oxfam and UNAIDS, which advocates for equal global access to Covid vaccines.

The overwhelming majority of experts – 88% – said that persistent low vaccination coverage in many countries would increase the likelihood of resistant mutations developing. The People’s Vaccine Alliance has warned that at the current rate of global immunization programs, only 10% of people in the majority of poor countries would likely be vaccinated next year.

Hits and boosters

A number of Covid vaccines have been developed, tested and licensed for emergency use over the past year. The three vaccines currently in use in the West – from Moderna, Pfizer and BioNTech, AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford – are mainly made in the United States, the United Kingdom or the EU, while China and Russia have developed their own candidate vaccines.

Time is running out on life-saving immunization; the coronavirus pandemic has resulted in over 127 million Covid infections worldwide and over 2.7 million deaths to date. The United States, Brazil, India, France, Russia and the United Kingdom have been hit the hardest, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

The spread of more infectious (and in some cases, potentially more deadly) variants of the virus in the second half of 2020 has made the race to vaccinate as many people as possible a very busy event. Vaccine developers have already announced that they are developing ‘booster’ injections to treat variants of Covid that have become more dominant, especially those first discovered in the UK, South Africa and Brazil.

Where do the vaccines go

Countries where injections have been developed or manufactured have prioritized immunizing their own populations over exporting doses elsewhere, to varying degrees.

Vaccine distribution has already become a source of heightened tensions, even among those who already have access to millions of doses, such as the EU and the UK, though both sides have now said they will work on a “win-win” solution on procurement.

The World Health Organization has called for richer countries, accused of “stockpiling” vaccines, to donate doses to its COVAX initiative, which aims to equitably distribute vaccines among poorer countries that are rapidly left behind in the race to protect their populations. The WHO said in January the world was on the brink of “catastrophic moral failure” because of the inequitable deployment of vaccines.

The People’s Vaccine Alliance survey found that nearly three-quarters of those surveyed – which included experts from Johns Hopkins University, Yale, Imperial College, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, University of Cambridge and University of Cape Town – said open sharing of technology and intellectual property could increase global immunization coverage.

The People’s Vaccine Alliance said it called for “lifting pharmaceutical monopolies and sharing technology to urgently increase vaccine supply.”

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