As COVID-19 immunizations continue to be given around the world, coordinated global response to viral variants that may threaten vaccine protection is critical, according to a group of World Health Organization scientists, including Ira Longini, Ph.D. from the University of Florida, in a special report published in The New England Journal of Medicine.
Experts’ Find New Methods To Address New COVID-19 Variants
A double mutant viral form appeared in India and have fueled a rise in COVID-19 infection this spring, with more than 300,000 new cases recorded each day in May.
The delta form of concern in India includes changes that make the virus potentially more transmissible, and antibodies from previous infections and existing vaccinations may be less protective against it. These traits, among others, may have led to India’s huge pandemic, as per Longini, who is a biostatistics professor at the University of Florida’s Colleges of Public Health and Health Professions and Medicine.
As this virus spreads around the world, there may be fears that current vaccinations may become less effective, at least against infection.
A variation known as gamma that is sweeping Brazil and spreading across the Americas impairs immune escape, making patients who have already been infected with COVID-19 more vulnerable to reinfection. Current vaccinations may also be less effective against gamma, according to Longini, a member of UF’s Emerging Pathogens Institute.
The researchers, who are members and consultants to the WHO Solidarity Trial, a worldwide clinical trial investigating COVID-19 therapies and vaccinations, identify four objectives for a coordinated response to variations.
Global strategies to evaluate whether existing vaccines are losing effectiveness against variants; choices on whether modified or new vaccines are needed to restore effectiveness against variants; efforts to reduce the chances that viral variants of issue will emerge; and international coordination of research and response to new variants are led by WHO.
Longini explained that the capacity to do genetic sequencing on sample COVID-19 tests that employ polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, technology is critical for variant detection and monitoring.
The amount of sequencing in surveillance systems varies greatly per country, he explained. For example, significant sequencing has occurred in the United Kingdom, sporadic sequencing in the United States, and practically no sequencing at all in several nations.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, WHO has been following the development of viral variations and urges that all nations enhance the collection of samples for sequencing and exchange them with one another via public databases. The WHO authors describe several clinical trial techniques in their study to assist assess the effectiveness of existing vaccinations against novel variations.
They suggest that now is the moment to prepare for the development of new vaccines that are effective against emerging variations, single-dose, easily scalable, and do not require a temperature-controlled supply chain.
Longini believes that they will definitely need to give already vaccinated patients booster doses of vaccine containing spike protein, which can neutralize many of the circulating virus strains in the future. This may be in the form of an annual dosage of vaccination, similar to how we now treat seasonal influenza.
To restrict the emergence of new variants, the researchers propose methods such as continuing public health measures to reduce transmission, such as masking, physical separation, and vaccinations; avoiding untested immunizations and treatment options; and considering aimed vaccination methods for reducing community transmission.
Finally, worldwide research cooperation is critical for preserving vaccination effectiveness against variations while also providing fair access to immunizations.
Longini believes that to reduce the emergence and spread of COVID-19 variations, the virus’s transmission should be slowed as much as possible. This might be best accomplished by distributing vaccination to the nations who need it the most, rather than concentrating it in affluent countries.