There are new coronavirus strains: Can our vaccines stop them?

Published: Jan. 7, 2021 at 11:33 AM EST
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(CNN) – Two new variants of the coronavirus seem to make the virus more easily spread.

One, first identified in Britain, has already been discovered in the United States.

While doctors worried it might have mutated enough to evade vaccine protection, initial evidence suggests it has not.

However, the jury’s still out on the second new variant that was first seen in South Africa.

“We don’t want that strain running around the world and causing more damage,” said Dr. William Schaffner, a professor of infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University.

Over the next few weeks, virologists will be studying to see how much of a match there is between the South African variant and the available vaccines.

All current vaccines target what is known as the spike protein. It’s the structure the virus uses to get into the cells it attacks.

But mutations that change the way that spike protein looks can also help hide it from the immune system, making antibodies less effective.

“If there’s not a match or there’s sufficient deviation, then the manufacturers will have to go back to work and create yet another vaccine, hopefully, one that will cover both strains,” said Schaffner.

All viruses mutate, which is why vaccines like the one for the flu are changed each year.

But some scientists say encouraging coronavirus vaccination is a clear solution to defeating any potential mutations in the virus.

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