THD NewsDesk, LONDON: As Russia sets to start its COVID-19 vaccine trials on 40,000 people after 23rd August 2020, concerns about the potential mutation of the SARS-CoV-2 has been under discussion among the virus experts.
The concern was elaborated upon by Ian Jones, professor of virology at Reading University, Britain,
“Less than complete protection could provide a selection pressure that drives the virus to evade what antibody there is, creating strains that then evade all vaccine responses.”
He emphasizes the dangers of producing a vaccine for mass use when its trials have not been completed likely to provide only partial protection. This “evolutionary pressure” may force the virus to mutate by using a vaccine with only partial protection, making the situation even worse.
“In that sense, a poor vaccine is worse than no vaccine.”, adds Jones.
Although the developers, the investors, and the Russian government claim the safety of Sputnik-V the vaccine and its effectiveness based on the human trials conducted on a small number of people.
However, the results of the vaccine trials have not been released to the public, which makes many Western scientists question the authenticity of the trials. Unless the vaccine is approved internationally and the regulatory procedures have been completed, scientists have warned against the use of the vaccine.
Meanwhile, Russia plans to start administering the vaccine on patients in high- risk groups like those working in the healthcare sector before the trial is completed and produces any concrete results.
Kathryn Edwards, a professor of pediatrics and vaccine expert in the infectious diseases division at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in the US said,
“You want to make sure the vaccine is effective. We really don’t know that (about the Sputnik vaccine),”.
She further added that the behavior of a vaccine with a virus, whether it blocks, fights, or forces the virus to adapt is always a volatile question.
“There are many potential downsides of using a vaccine that doesn’t work. The risk that it (the virus) would mutate is a theoretical risk,” said Dan Barouch, a specialist at Harvard’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. He said, there are lower risks of coronaviruses mutating as fast as viruses like HIV.
Scientists find that bacterial pathogens face similar pressure to evolve when they encounter antibiotics designed to attack them, hence developing resistance. As a result, one of the biggest threats to global health, food security, and development is antibiotic resistance and the evolution of simple bacteria into superbugs according to the World Health Organization.
“If (a vaccine) is completely sterilizing, the virus can’t get in, so it can’t learn anything because it never gets a chance,” he said. “But if it gets in and replicates … there is a selection pressure for it to evade whatever antibodies have been generated by the inefficient vaccine. And you don’t know what the outcome of that will be.” said Jones. He emphasized on the effectiveness of the vaccine in curbing further viral mutation.
Although it would provide a big relief to people around the world if a vaccine is developed, it is also necessary to ensure the potential vaccine is not partially effective, which may lead to a mutation in the SARS-CoV-2, pushing the virus to learn and evade attacks from antibodies.