NEWS
April 12, 2021

Does The Vaccine Work Against New COVID Variants?

Does The Vaccine Work Against New COVID Variants?
Kathleen Gaines
By: Kathleen Gaines MSN, RN, BA, CBC

The U.S. has recently passed the one-year anniversary of when the world shut down due to the coronavirus, or SARS-CoV-2. As researchers and medical professionals are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel due to the decreasing number of new infections and daily deaths - COVID-19 variants are becoming more prevalent. Furthermore, the current vaccines have not proven their efficacy against the variants. 

Currently, there are four known variants but even these variants continue to change. All viruses mutate. The flu mutates every year which is why the variants the vaccine works against vary every year. It appears that coronavirus is going to do the same. Research has proven that because of the way COVID affects the cells and mRNA, the mutations might not be as prevalent and/or severe. 

In the never-ending battle to return life to some resemblance of normalcy, the COVID variants continue to throw a wrench in the plan. Nurses continue to see surges in certain areas of the country, especially from those returning from overseas travel. 

Known COVID-19 Variants

Researchers and medical professionals have identified several COVID-19 variants. The most well-known variants were first discovered in the United Kingdom and South Africa. Recently, a variant from Brazil and California has received national attention. Within these variants, there are multiple mutations. 

United Kingdom variant (B.1.1.7)

  • First emerged in September 2020
  • A large number of mutations
  • Potential for increased risk of death
  • Variant spreads more rapidly
  • Variant reported in other countries since December 2020
  • Vaccine efficacy is not affected by the U.K. variant

South Africa variant (B.1.351)

  • First emerged in October 2020.
  • Spreads more easily and quickly than other known variants
  • Very few cases of the variant have been found in the U.S.

Brazilian variant (P.1)

  • First emerged in January 2021.
  • It shares some critical mutations with the South Africa variant.
  • The  variant was identified in the U.S. at the end of January 2021

California Variant (B.1.427 and B.1.429)

  • Spreads very easily
  • Can affect the effectiveness of COVID antibodies
  • Moderately more resistant to antibodies from natural infection and vaccination than the original coronavirus strain

Variants and Vaccine Efficacy

Three coronavirus vaccines have been given Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. At this time, individuals do not currently have the option to pick which vaccine they would like to receive; however, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is currently the only vaccine recommended for people aged 16 years and older. 

Vaccine efficacy is still not entirely known because of the ever-changing mutations. However, all three vaccine producers have been conducting additional research on the efficacy of the vaccines against the current known variants and possible new variants/mutations. 

United Kingdom variant

  • Studies suggest the UK variant doesn’t have a major impact on vaccine efficacy.

South Africa variant

  • Studies are currently testing whether the current COVID-19 vaccines work just as well against this variant.
  • Lab studies suggest the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines may have slightly reduced efficacy against this variant.
  • Moderna is currently testing a booster shot designed specifically against the South Africa variant.
  • Pfizer is expected to begin studying the need for a booster shot.
  • Even if these vaccines don’t work as well at preventing mild-to-moderate disease, protection against severe disease and death is expected to remain strong.
  • A Phase 3 clinical trial showed the Johnson & Johnson vaccine did not work quite as well at preventing asymptomatic disease. However, the vaccine was just as effective against hospitalization and death.

Brazilian variant

  • Studies are currently testing vaccine efficacy, but it doesn’t appear to have a major impact.
    • Johnson & Johnson conducted part of its vaccine trial in Brazil and reported no issues with vaccine efficacy.
    • Pfizer and Moderna believe their vaccines retain high efficacy against this variant.

What Does This Mean For Nurses?

It means that in some capacity- the virus is here to stay. Nurses will have to continue to remain vigilant to protect not only themselves but also their families and most importantly their patients. It also means that the COVID vaccine may become an annual requirement for healthcare workers, similar to the flu vaccine for some. However, it is impossible to predict if that will be the case. 

 

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