Virus Variants: All you need to know about mutations3 min readReading Time: 3 minutes
So, the Coronavirus vaccine is rolling out and it seems like end of COVID-19 is not far off. Yet, the problem that it has caused is far from over. Many people are now doubting the vaccine’s effectiveness against the up and coming coronavirus variants. What are these mutations and why are they so troublesome?
Owliver’s Obscure Observation: Mutations are basically a spin-off of the original virus and may be more or less deadly, depending on the variant. Currently, the UK and South African variant of the Coronavirus have been in the news since their transmission rates are higher than the original virus.
What happens when a virus enters your body (hypothetically)
When a virus enters your body, it enters into a cell. Then, the virus releases its genetic code into the cell. This hijacks the protein-making process that the cell uses to provide your body with more cells.
Soon, this cell instead becomes a virus manufacturer. It releases thousands of virus particles, which soon imitate the same process on other cells, soon taking over your body. The immune system slowly reacts, bringing white blood cells to kill virus particles. The immune system slowly wins the battle and eliminates all virus particles from the body. If the immune system is unable to achieve this, the virus stays longer and creates more problems.
More about mutations
Here’s an interesting video that explains virus mutations.
Now, the virus mutation causes problems because it’s genetic DNA is different from the original virus strain for which the vaccine was made. Most of the vaccines approved use a method called mRNA, which means that it uses the DNA to make the vaccine work. Since the DNA is slightly modified, the vaccine might not be as effective as triggering antibodies, which come to fight the virus.
Although all these issues may arise, most companies developing vaccines have shown that their vaccine is almost as effective as it was for the original virus. Some companies are also planning to develop a booster shot, in the case virus mutations go too far.
Owliver’s Obscure Facts: There are so many Covid-19 mutations that it’s hard to keep count. The ones we hear most about in the media are the UK, South Africa, Brazil and California variants.
The burning question: Will these vaccines protect us?
So far, we know that vaccine has been rolling out, and there haven’t been many known cases of people being reinfected with another variant after being inoculated.
The vaccines currently in the market are mRNA based and produce an antibody response to the Covid-19 spike protein. As long as the spike protein has not mutated significantly in variants, the exisiting vaccines would largely be effective. That said, the vaccine has to evolve just like the virus does! Scientists anticipate that over time, Covid-19 variants will be covered through booster shots or subsequent vaccinations in upcoming years.
Overall, they think it is safe to venture and not be concerned about infection from mutation after vaccination. The infection will only be mild in the worst case. One advantage of fast vaccination is that the virus will infect only few people, which effectively results in fewer chances of virus mutating. The speed of reaching herd immunity through vaccinations is important here.
Lets also not forget that different demographic have their own immune response to Covid-19. This is based on age, existing comorbidities, weather, and existing immunity to Coronaviruses. For examples, some anecdotal evidence suggests that the Indian subcontinent has lower hospitalisation rates than other parts of the world.
For more information on the coronavirus vaccine and how it was made, read our special 3 part series here: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3
(All Things Science is weekly column about science, space and other things around it.)