COVID-19 mutations should not impact vaccine effectiveness, health experts say

Variants of COVID-19 are showing up in countries like the United Kingdom, Nigeria, and South Africa, but the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines will still help humans create the necessary immune response to the virus, health experts say.

They say COVID-19 mutations were to be expected.

"It's not really surprising, RNA viruses mutate, that's sort of who they are; it's what they do," said Dr. Thomas Unnasch, a professor of public health and infectious disease researcher at the University of South Florida.

More study is needed, but health experts say the new strains showing up in the UK and Africa are up to 70% more transmissible than the original COVID-19 strain.

Spike proteins change or mutate. Those are the parts of the virus that look like spikes protruding out of it. They are the key that lets the virus into the cell so it can multiply, according to Dr. Unnasch.

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"There are three amino acid mutations that occur in the spike protein," Unnasch said.

He says the spike protein is 1,237 amino acids long and the mutations in the UK and Africa have just three amino acid changes.

"Three changes out of 1,237 is not a lot and the vaccine is based against the entire spike protein so the entire 1237 amino acids, so three little changes is not going to change the immune response," said Unnasch.

Therefore, Unnasch says the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are still effective.