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Racing The Coronavirus: Why Tweaking The COVID-19 Vaccines Won’t Be Simple

Dr. Michael Osterholm, an infectious disease expert at the University of Minnesota said that at this point, there is no evidence that coronavirus variants have changed the equation in terms of protection from the COVID-19 vaccine

Racing The Virus: Why Tweaking The Vaccines Won't Be Simple
Highlights
  • Altering Pfizer's vaccine would require a very minor change
  • The company could make a prototype version of vaccine in a week: Pifzer
  • Global surveillance network to assess emerging strain must be built: Expert

Chicago: After developing and rolling out COVID-19 vaccines at record speed, drugmakers are already facing variants of the rapidly-evolving coronavirus that may render them ineffective, a challenge that will require months of research and a massive financial investment, according to disease experts. Executives from Moderna Inc and Pfizer Inc and partner BioNTech SE are considering new versions of their vaccines to respond to the most concerning variants identified so far. That is just one piece of the work needed to stay ahead of the virus, nearly a dozen experts told Reuters.

Also Read: India Records Lowest Daily New COVID-19 Cases After 8 Months, Dr Randeep Guleria Explains The Drop And The Need To Get Vaccinated

A global surveillance network to assess emerging variants must be built. Scientists need to establish what level of antibodies will be required to protect people from COVID-19 and determine when vaccines need to be altered. And regulators must convey what is needed to demonstrate updated vaccines are still safe and effective.

At this point, there is no evidence that these variants have changed the equation in terms of protection from the vaccine. But we have to be prepared for that, said Dr. Michael Osterholm, an infectious disease expert at the University of Minnesota.

Johnson & Johnson told Reuters the concerning variant first identified in South African has got its attention and will tweak its vaccine accordingly if needed. Pfizer said it could produce a new vaccine relatively quickly, but a top vaccine executive said manufacturing it presents additional challenges.

The urgency of this effort is clear.

Moderna on Monday (January 25) said lab studies showed antibodies made in response to its vaccine were six times less effective at neutralizing a lab-created version of a South African variant than prior versions of the virus.

A study released on Wednesday (January 27) ahead of peer review found the South African variant reduced neutralizing antibodies 8.6-fold for the Moderna vaccine and by 6.5-fold for the Pfizer/BioNTech shot, although a separate Pfizer-backed study released on Wednesday suggests its vaccine may be more hardy. Moderna said this week it is starting work on a potential booster shot.

Also Read: Covaxin Effectively Neutralises UK Variant Of COVID-19: Indian Council of Medical Research

Just how far protection can drop before a COVID-19 vaccine needs to be altered is not yet known. With influenza, an eightfold drop in vaccine-induced antibody protection means time to update. That does not necessarily apply to this coronavirus.

“The problem is we don’t know what the cut point is for coronavirus,” said Dr. John Mascola, director of the Vaccine Research Center at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), whose scientists helped develop Moderna’s vaccine.

Mascola said both studies testing the Moderna vaccine against the South African variant are roughly in the “same ballpark.” It could be that antibody protection is high enough from the vaccine that it will still be effective, he said.

NIAID scientists are analyzing data from Moderna’s late-stage trial to see what level of neutralizing antibodies is required for protection. They are comparing individuals who were vaccinated but got sick anyway to vaccinated people who remained healthy.

It could take two months to complete this work, Mascola said. They hope to produce a benchmark for the minimum level of vaccine-induced antibodies needed to protect against COVID-19.

A global surveillance network is also needed to identify troubling new variants as they emerge, similar to one used to track fast-mutating flu viruses. That could cost tens to hundreds of millions of dollars in the United States alone.

Richard Webby, a flu surveillance expert from St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, said the United States could probably build a system to identify variants fairly quickly. Developing the capability to determine whether they evade current vaccines will take more time.

Also Read: COVID-19: Moderna Says It Believes Its Vaccine Will Work Against New Variants

The United States is currently conducting genetic sequencing to look for changes in the virus in just 0.3% of positive coronavirus tests. That pales compared with 10% in the UK, which was first to discover a major mutation in the virus that increases transmission by at least 50%. Experts said countries should sequence at least 5% of positive cases to detect significant changes in the virus.

Companies are waiting for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to relay what testing will be needed for altered vaccines, said Phil Dormitzer, one of Pfizer’s top viral vaccine scientists. With influenza vaccines, companies can make changes without new trials. “But that’s after doing it for 50 years,” he said.

Peter Marks, who oversees the FDA’s vaccine approval process, has said small trials testing updated vaccines in around 400 participants may be needed at first. Even that could add months to the process.

Norman Baylor, chief executive of Biologics Consulting and a former FDA vaccines official, said the agency will lay out the regulatory road. But public health agencies like the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization would decide when vaccines should be updated, as with flu.

Altering Pfizer’s vaccine would require “a very minor change,” Mr. Dormitzer said.

Also Read: Vaccinated People May Still Transmit COVID-19, Warns England’s Chief Medic

Like Moderna’s, it uses messenger RNA (mRNA) technology, which relies on synthetic genes that can be generated and manufactured in weeks.

He estimates the company could make a prototype version in a week or so, and take another two months to scale up and update their lab tests.

J&J, which is expected to release late-stage trial data on its vaccine within days, has laid the groundwork to address troubling virus changes, Chief Scientific Officer Paul Stoffels told Reuters. Its trial included sites in South Africa, which should give the company insight on that variant.

If a change is necessary, Stoffels said J&J likely would add a second strain into its existing vaccine.

We are looking at this with a lot of attention, he said.

Also Read: Experts Appeal Taking COVID-19 Vaccine Shot To Break The Chain Of Transmission And Avoid Another Peak

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

NDTV – Dettol Banega Swasth India campaign is an extension of the five-year-old Banega Swachh India initiative helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. It aims to spread awareness about critical health issues facing the country. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (WaterSanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign highlights the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children to prevent maternal and child mortality, fight malnutrition, stunting, wasting, anaemia and disease prevention through vaccines. Importance of programmes like Public Distribution System (PDS), Mid-day Meal Scheme, POSHAN Abhiyan and the role of Aganwadis and ASHA workers are also covered. Only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and become a Swasth or healthy India. The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollutionwaste managementplastic banmanual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene

World

24,50,12,529Cases
20,64,25,824Active
3,36,14,434Recovered
49,72,271Deaths
Coronavirus has spread to 195 countries. The total confirmed cases worldwide are 24,50,12,529 and 49,72,271 have died; 20,64,25,824 are active cases and 3,36,14,434 have recovered as on October 28, 2021 at 4:00 am.

India

3,42,31,809 16,156Cases
1,60,9891,672Active
3,36,14,434 17,095Recovered
4,56,386 733Deaths
In India, there are 3,42,31,809 confirmed cases including 4,56,386 deaths. The number of active cases is 1,60,989 and 3,36,14,434 have recovered as on October 28, 2021 at 2:30 am.

State Details

State Cases Active Recovered Deaths
Maharashtra

66,06,536 1,485

23,096 3,500

64,43,342 4,947

1,40,098 38

Kerala

49,38,603 9,445

77,158 2,100

48,31,468 6,723

29,977 622

Karnataka

29,86,835 282

8,459 80

29,40,339 349

38,037 13

Tamil Nadu

26,98,493 1,075

12,288 252

26,50,145 1,315

36,060 12

Andhra Pradesh

20,64,854 567

4,777 122

20,45,713 437

14,364 8

Uttar Pradesh

17,10,114 13

100 6

16,87,115 7

22,899

West Bengal

15,89,042 976

7,973 124

15,61,973 837

19,096 15

Delhi

14,39,709 38

348 25

14,14,270 13

25,091

Odisha

10,39,818 549

4,392 213

10,27,108 334

8,318 2

Chhattisgarh

10,05,926 28

263 14

9,92,088 12

13,575 2

Rajasthan

9,54,411 4

20 0

9,45,437 4

8,954

Gujarat

8,26,481 17

173 2

8,16,220 15

10,088

Madhya Pradesh

7,92,804 20

108 9

7,82,172 10

10,524 1

Haryana

7,71,204 15

133 5

7,61,022 10

10,049

Bihar

7,26,073 5

41 1

7,16,371 4

9,661

Telangana

6,70,829 186

4,164 63

6,62,714 122

3,951 1

Assam

6,09,506 244

3,838 153

5,99,681 391

5,987 6

Punjab

6,02,289 38

246 20

5,85,487 16

16,556 2

Jharkhand

3,48,705 28

160 30

3,43,408 56

5,137 2

Uttarakhand

3,43,861 17

150 6

3,36,312 23

7,399

Jammu And Kashmir

3,31,865 70

838 16

3,26,596 86

4,431

Himachal Pradesh

2,23,406 261

1,972 211

2,17,693 48

3,741 2

Goa

1,77,969 23

454 29

1,74,152 51

3,363 1

Puducherry

1,27,846 40

443 10

1,25,546 50

1,857

Manipur

1,23,473 70

844 29

1,20,712 97

1,917 2

Mizoram

1,19,496 547

7,320 446

1,11,752 991

424 2

Tripura

84,438 15

123 1

83,499 14

816

Meghalaya

83,466 51

507 22

81,511 71

1,448 2

Chandigarh

65,331 5

29 2

64,482 3

820

Arunachal Pradesh

55,120 6

115 22

54,725 28

280

Sikkim

31,925 13

177 1

31,353 12

395

Nagaland

31,759 12

222 3

30,856 15

681

Ladakh

20,925 8

47 6

20,670 2

208

Dadra And Nagar Haveli

10,682 1

6 0

10,672 1

4

Lakshadweep

10,365

0 0

10,314

51

Andaman And Nicobar Islands

7,650 2

5 1

7,516 1

129

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