Will coronavirus vaccines work against new variant? UPenn doctor weighs in

The new variant or mutation to the coronavirus reported in the United Kingdom is prompting new questions, like will the vaccine still work?

The good news is most researchers believe yes, the vaccine will still work but just in case, Pfizer and Moderna are testing their vaccines against this new variant.

Microbiologist Susan Weiss, Ph.D. has been studying coronaviruses for four decades and is now co-director of Penn's Center of research on coronavirus and other emerging pathogens.

As for this new variant, she says there is still a lot to learn and as to whether it makes the virus spread faster, that hasn't been scientifically proven yet.

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Researchers are concerned about reports from Britain and South Africa of new COVID-19 strains that seem to spread more easily.



"I mean what if the virus is just spreading faster because people are being less careful and going to parties? It's a correlation, it's not a cause and effect observation," Dr. Weiss said.

She also thinks it's highly unlikely the variant will significantly affect the vaccine because the vaccine develops antibodies against multiple parts of what's known as the spike protein on the virus, not just this mutated part.

Still vaccine makers Pfizer and Moderna are putting it to the test. "It's a good thing to do but I am sure they're pretty confident it's not going to show anything different," she said.

Viruses constantly change. Dr. Weiss said the best thing we can do now is slow the spread of the virus, giving it less opportunity to mutate.

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"Rather than be scared of it, continue to do what we're supposed to be doing anyway," said Dr. Weiss.

The only reason this variant was found is because researchers were testing more samples of the virus.

The CDC will be ramping up testing in January. Weiss says they will also start looking for this variant in their research.
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