Researchers have identified an “escape mutant” that could reduce the effectiveness of Covid-19 vaccines.
The mutation – called E484K – has been found in a variant of the coronavirus that was first seen in South Africa two months ago. This variant has now spread to 12 other countries.
Penny Moore, an associate professor at the National Institute for Communicable Diseases in South Africa, called the mutation “alarming.”
“We fear that this mutation may have an impact, and what we do not know is the extent of the impact,” she said.
E484K is called an “escape mutant” because it has been shown that it may be able to escape some of the antibodies produced by the vaccine.
“I’m worried,” said Alex Sigal, a virologist at the Africa Health Research Institute.
Sigal, Moore, and other researchers studying the E484K mutation still need to complete their work in the laboratory to see if the vaccine is less effective against this new variant.
Based on what they have seen so far, they say they highly doubt that E484K will render coronavirus vaccines useless. Rather, they believe that there is a possibility that the mutation – alone or in combination with other mutations – may reduce the vaccine’s effect against the variant.
They also worry that E484K may be an indication that the new coronavirus is showing its ability to change before our eyes. If this mutation happened within a few months, other problematic mutations could follow.
“This virus may be taking the first steps down a fairly long path toward vaccine resistance,” said Andrew Ward, a structural virologist at Scripps Research in La Jolla, California.
“It’s the beginning of a long haul,” Moore said. “That’s what really shook me about this. It’s a sober wake-up call.”
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