Experts believe vaccines will be effective against new variants of virus

Despite the ease in changing the vaccines, the process may be complicated by regulation and manufacturing.

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A sense of relief that an end to the global coronavirus pandemic may soon be in sight has been tempered by news that a new variant of the virus has surfaced in the United Kingdom and South Africa. 

However, experts are saying the RNA technology in both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccine versions can be “tweaked” and defeat newer COVID-19 strains as well. 

A bottle of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine is shown during a press conference in Fort Lauderdale. Broward Health Medical Center recently began vaccinating frontline healthcare workers with the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine and are now inoculating caregivers with both. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

“It’s very easy,” Drew Weissman, a professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, told The Washington Post. 

Still, despite the ease in making changes to the vaccines, the process may be complicated by regulatory and manufacturing requirements. 

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The variant coronavirus strain has been deemed more transmissible, but is, so far, not more deadly. 

Scientists at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research are studying the new strain and how it’s impacted by the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines. 

“It stands to reason that this mutation isn’t a threat, but you never know,” Dr. Nelson Michael, director of the Center for Infectious Diseases Research at Walter Reed, told CNN. “We still have to be diligent and continue to look.” 

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An August study from the same research team determined the vaccines will work against several mutations of the virus. 

Because of the easy transmission of the newer strain, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has instituted holiday lockdowns in the country, urging people to refrain from gathering for Christmas. 

“There’s no evidence to suggest the vaccine will be any less effective against the new variant,” said Johnson. “Our experts will continue their work to improve our understanding as fast as we can.”

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Dr. William Schaffner, an advisor to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on vaccines, gave an easily-understood analogy of virus mutation on CNN. He likened mutation to the idea of changing one’s coat.

“I can switch out my brown coat for a gray coat, but I’m still Bill Schaffner,” Schaffner explained. “I’ve changed something, but I’m still the same person.”

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