University of Pennsylvania scientists testing vaccines against variants of COVID-19

Wednesday, January 6, 2021
University of Pennsylvania scientists testing vaccines against variants of COVID-19
A team of scientists at the University of Pennsylvania are testing vaccines against new variants of the coronavirus.

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Scientists expected there could be new versions of COVID-19, known as variants.

But what scientists at the University of Pennsylvania want to know is: will the two vaccines work against them as well?

"We're testing Moderna, Pfizer, and other people are testing the new variants against people that have been vaccinated," said Dr. Drew Weissman, who is leading a team of scientists at Penn. "My guess is we'll have an answer in the next week or two that confirms, or likely confirms, that the vaccines will work."

Dr. Weissman says by creating new versions of itself, what the virus is doing is learning how to better infect humans. To that end, his team is looking ahead at what other variants or viruses may come in the future.

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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.

"There have been three coronavirus epidemics in the past 20 years. You have to figure there's gonna be more," said Weissman.

Weissman and his collaborators are pioneers in the RNA technology that led to the two vaccines. He and his team are currently working on another vaccine that will work against any future coronavirus or variant.

SEE ALSO: Pioneering mRNA technology in Moderna, Pfizer vaccines developed at University of Pennsylvania

The U.S. added a second COVID-19 vaccine to its arsenal Friday, boosting efforts to beat back an outbreak so dire that the nation is regularly recording more than 3,000 deaths a da

"We've got positive results. We've made vaccines that we've tested in small animals that show broad protection. We're moving forward. We started this in March. We're thinking ahead for the future," said Weissman.

As promising as the trials in animals have been, Weissman says they still have to go through human clinical trials, so it's probably years before they are available as vaccines.