TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — COVID’s more infectious Delta variant was trouble enough, but vaccines can protect you from it. Now, researchers are worried current vaccines might not work against a new variant called Omicron.
Fast moving outbreaks in Africa told health officials they might be dealing with something new. They found a new version of the virus, now named Omicron, had mutated so it had 35 differences in the spikes the virus uses like a can opener to tear into cells and force those cells to create more COVID.
Current vaccines use proteins from the spikes to teach your immune system to recognize and attack the virus but if mutations change the spikes enough, that approach could be less effective or not work at all.
At Quality of Life Research Center, Doctor Jack McGettigan and his staff helped develop and test COVID vaccines. He compares adapting COVID vaccines to the new variants to the challenge to adapt the flu vaccine as the flu virus changes.
“So, that's going to be the concern, I think, going forward and how much has this mutation changed? And will the current vaccines really be beneficial or maybe a little bit beneficial? That's gonna take time.”
Doctor McGettigan says researchers will also watch to see if the new Omicron variant makes people sicker than previous versions and if it spreads more quickly.
He says if a revised vaccine is required, the good news is the mRNA technology used for the current vaccines lets researchers get new vaccines ready without five, six or seven years of development time.
“Now obviously COVID has brought it to the forefront and I know it's being looked at for creating new influenza vaccines such as RSV, Ebola. I mean, there's lots of things that are being looked into. So, it's becoming a part of our day to day life.”