What do the new variants of the virus mean for the vaccine?

Updated: Jan. 19, 2021 at 6:00 PM CST
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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WAFF) - A new, more infectious variant of COVID-19 has been making headlines in the last several weeks. So what does that mean for coronavirus vaccines?

Our Kate Smith talked to a local doctor who said the virus hasn’t mutated enough to make the vaccine ineffective, but monitoring it will be crucial.

More than a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, medical experts around the world still have more questions than answers.

“At the moment it is very early to know how long the vaccine is going to be effective,” said Doctor Ali Hassoun with Huntsville Hospital. “Is it going to be six months only or is it going to be a year or two?”

With vaccine distribution ramping up across the country, Dr. Hassoun said early signs show the vaccine should still offer some level of protection against the mutated versions of the virus.

“Of course, if it is only going to be six months for example, it is going to be like what the flu shot is going to be. Every year you are going to need a shot with COVID.”

Currently the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine are about 95% effective against the virus one week after the second dose. But Dr. Hassoun said it is too early to tell how it will go up against a new variant.

“Looking at these variants, it looks like it is still going to work but is it still 95% or less? We don’t know that. However, I can tell you even if it is 50% it should be fine.”

Doctor Hassoun said there is no evidence any of these new variants are deadlier than previous versions of the virus. He said if we end up needing a yearly shot or a booster shot to protect ourselves, drug companies will be able to mass produce the vaccine faster than the first go around.

“The moment there is a new variant or a mutant, Moderna and Pfizer can probably produce a new form of the vaccine within six to eight weeks. It will be much much faster.”

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