The SARS-CoV2 is ‘SMART’: An update regarding uprising ‘escape mutants’.

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By Steffie Tan Xin Yi

A pharmacist. Also an individual inclined to arts. A Phartmacist?

Image by cromaconceptovisual from Pixabay

In the last quarter of 2020, you have probably heard of the mutated UK variant of SARS-CoV2, B-117 that is much more infectious and responsible for two-thirds of the COVID-19 cases in the UK. It is reported that the new variant is about 30-50% more contagious than the original strain.

One has to wonder, is this the first case of virus mutation? Unfortunately, NO. Back in February 2020, as some of you might recall, Europe came across the D614G mutation of the virus and it is this strain that is currently running rampant around the globe. (Read more about the D614G mutation here)

 

A Smart Virus

SARS-CoV2, like most flu viruses, is smart. It is able to make tiny adjustments (mutations) in their genetic sequence to adapt to their environment. Just recently, scientists have discovered an ‘escape mutant’ that may render our current vaccines less effective against the pandemic. This may be the start of some hurdles before we even get rid of the virus.

The ‘escape mutant’ is a E484K mutation found in a South African strain called 501.V2. to date, the variant has spread to about 20 countries over Eastern and Western Cape provinces of South Africa, Austria, Norway and Japan. This E484K mutation has shown that it is able to escape some of the antibodies produced by the vaccine, hence its moniker.

That ‘one kid’ in class

To explain this in simpler terms, the ability of the virus to produce mutations that decrease the efficacy of vaccines is compared to a rogue child in a classroom of children. Let’s be honest, every class has that ‘one kid’ that drives the homeroom teacher crazy.

This class of children = SARS-CoV2; the teacher = vaccine; rogue child = escape mutant.

Ah Meng: Ehehehe

If you get the picture, you would get the whole idea of an ‘escape mutant’. The teacher’s inability to command control over this disobedient child in class is likened to how this ‘escape mutant’ would render our vaccines ineffective in the long run.

 

Hurdles after hurdles

This is alarming news considering the fact that we are finally going to receive the vaccine with the thought of being free from COVID-19. The ‘escape mutant’ could mean that the novel coronavirus is able to change and evolve before our very eyes. More problematic and complex mutations may follow and it looks like the virus is taking small steps towards vaccine resistance.

Nevertheless, these are recent findings in research and have yet to be completed. The ‘escape mutant’ may be able to escape some but not all of the antibodies elicited by vaccines. Researchers should be allowed more time to produce more conclusive evidence on the new mutations but as of now, these challenges are real and imminent.

 

Have faith in science

When asked if these upcoming vaccines are able to handle the ‘escape mutant’, Moderna has relayed that the vaccines can be adjusted ‘in weeks’ to target the new strains. CEO of Pfizer has also said that their vaccines ‘have a very high efficacy against the UK and South African strains’.

Just like how the influenza vaccines are recommended to people all over the world as  a yearly shot, The same concept could very well apply to the upcoming COVID-19 vaccines too. There may be more and more obstacles ahead, but with the collaborative effort of people all over the world, we can only hope and continue the good fight.

Stay tuned for more updates and be sure to watch this space!

The opinions expressed in the article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the view of MPS YPC. All information is updated as of publication date.

References:

  1. https://edition.cnn.com/2021/01/12/health/coronavirus-mutation-south-africa-variant/index.html
  2. https://www.bbc.com/news/health-55534727
  3. https://www.bbc.com/news/health-55388846
  4. https://www.bbc.com/news/health-55659820
  5. https://sciencebusiness.net/covid-19/news/ready-covid-21-vaccine-manufacturer-says-it-can-handle-escape-mutant

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