Progress made in fight against COVID-19 variants

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We’re learning more each day about the impacts of COVID-19 variants on our pandemic progress.

Florida leads the country with 416 cases of the UK variant as of Tuesday. We know this strain is highly transmissible, so how can we fight it?

It can feel like a deadly game.

“It’s starting to feel like we’re in a game of chess with this virus. We made the vaccine – your move, virus. Well, it created some new variants that can get around a vaccine,” said Dr. Hana Akselrod, assistant professor of medicine at George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences.

In addition to three international variants, seven new variants are in the U.S., and some of those mutations impact vaccine effectiveness.

“The vaccines still show efficacy against these variants, but they are not as robust as they were against the previous strain of the virus,” said Dr. Bindu Mayi, professor of microbiology at NSU’s College of Medical Sciences.

Why? Because our current vaccines create antigens, which target the virus’ spike protein – and the spike is changing.

“When we’re talking about different variants, you might get a slightly different shape of antibody that was produced before that’s no longer 100% a match for that three-dimensional binding site,” Akselrod said.

But we’re not out of moves yet. Now, researchers are looking into T-cells to help boost our immunity.

“Antibodies typically are generated against what’s seen on the surface – so the spike protein that the virus uses to get into the cell, for instance. T-cells are generally engineered to fight against proteins that are expressed and exposed once it gets inside our cell,” Mayi said.

“We will probably keep playing; we’re in the mid-game now. And our overall goal is to drive the population of the virus down so that there’s less of it out there with fewer opportunities to mutate and create newer variants,” Akselrod said.

And we’re playing to win.

Coronaviruses are notorious for being quick to mutate. For comparison, they’re a bit slower than influenza but faster than other familiar viruses, such as measles.

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