Here’s what you need to know about the new strains of COVID – and how today’s vaccines hold up

Everyone has been talking about the new strains of coronavirus, especially those originating in the UK and South Africa. The concern is whether the Pfizer (NYSE: PFE) and Moderna (NASDAQ: mRNA) vaccines can protect against these variants. In this Motley Fool Live video recorded on January 22, 2021, Corinne Cardina, Office Manager for Healthcare and Cannabis, and Adria Cimino, Fool.com Contributor, discuss these new strains, the ability of current vaccines to treat them, and what could happen if the strains become more resistant.

Corinne Cardine: Speaking of the big questions around vaccines that we still really have to answer, there is a lot of concern, naturally, about the handful of new strains that are spreading. Many of them have been reported to be even more transmissible than the original coronavirus strain. Can you explain what we need to know about these new strains, how they came about and what we now know about how existing vaccines will resist them?

Adria Cimino: Alright, sure. Well, first of all, there have been several strains or strain reports that have come up. But really the ones people are focusing on are the British strain and the South African strain. Now it’s different from a mutation. The strain and the variant are the same thing. Mutation is basically the change within the virus, the genetic changes that create a new strain or a new variant. This is what we are focusing on. How does this happen? Well the researchers say this is from people who have had long cases of COVID where they have had COVID for a long time and the body is just trying to fight it and it gives the virus time to change and also to fight and stay alive and changing. Then what happens is it gets passed on to someone else and there you have your new variant. That’s what happened. Now both companies say their vaccines will work against these new variants. Moderna’s vaccine, for example, encodes all the amino acids of the spike protein. The spike protein, you’ve probably all seen a pic of it, is that round thing with the spikes sticking out of it. What it is is what the coronavirus uses to infect. It attaches itself to cells and it infects. Basically Moderna says the new variant has a peak that’s only slightly different. There is a 1% difference between what Moderna produces – the original tip – and the new tip. They say they expect him to protect. Pfizer has also had some good news so far. He studied the UK’s cutting edge mutations in cell culture and said he was able to neutralize them. Now, that doesn’t mean it might work in all future variants. Dr Fauci also issued some warnings yesterday saying vaccines might not be as effective. Now that doesn’t mean they won’t work. It just means that right now, let’s say they’re about 95% effective, well, on these new strains or other new strains, even in the future they might be a little less effective. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t vaccinate. It means we have to vaccinate because basically we have to get more and more people vaccinated so that they don’t get coronavirus and don’t get COVID, then disease, then new mutation and new ones. variants in development. It’s really an important thing to get these vaccines out. Both companies also said that an update, if necessary in the future, could be made. If indeed in the future there was a strain that was very troublesome in the future, they could update their vaccines. Moderna even said they wouldn’t need to give it a really big try. It’s not like we’re starting from scratch. That’s very good news. Of course, this is always a challenge. If they had to do something like that, think about, you know, the production of the vaccine, the time that would be required, the logistics. It really wouldn’t be good news if that happened right away.

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