Does the COVID-19 vaccine work against the new coronavirus variant?

Man in mask walking past COVID-19 poster, but does the COVID vaccine work against the new strain?
Photo via Ennoti/Flickr (Public Domain)
  • It appears the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are still effective
  • The variant has been found in 33 countries, including the U.S.
  • The variant has been discovered in four states

A more contagious variant of the coronavirus has begun spreading around the globe, infecting people in 33 countries and at least four U.S. states as of Jan. 5. Its increased transmissibility is sparking concerns that the COVID-19 vaccines may be ineffective at combating the new strain of the virus. 

Experts, though, believe these concerns are unfounded. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top disease expert, said data indicates that the current vaccines should be effective against the new variant, called B.1.1.7. The variant first cropped up in the U.S. on Dec. 28, in a man who had no recent travel history. This indicates that he caught the variant through community transmission, making it difficult to determine how widespread the new strain has become. It has been detected in Colorado, California, Florida, and New York so far.

The U.S. plans to conduct tests to ensure that the current COVID vaccines remain effective against the new strain. There is a risk that the virus could mutate enough to make the vaccine ineffective, but experts are not currently concerned about this possibility, according to the Associated Press. In order for the virus to evade the immunity granted by the vaccine, it would need to “accumulate multiple mutations in the spike protein,” according to the Centers for Disease Control

“From what we know from experience with this mutation and other mutations, it’s unlikely to have a large impact on vaccine-induced immunity, or existing immunity from previous strains,” Dr. Greg Armstrong, director of the CDC’s Office of Advanced Molecular Detection, told USA Today

There are a few other potential consequences of the new variant’s emergence, as listed by the CDC. These include the virus’ ability to spread more rapidly, the ability to cause more severe or more mild illness, and the ability to “evade detection by specific diagnostic tests.” If the variant is not detectable by our current COVID-19 tests, the risk of widespread infection rises significantly. 

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Sources: AP, USA Today, CDC

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