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Business News/ Science / Health/  New COVID variants: Will you need coronavirus vaccines every year? WHO, other studies explain

New COVID variants: Will you need coronavirus vaccines every year? WHO, other studies explain

  • The next big discussions will be around where we go in terms of protecting future vulnerable people from COVID

Several studies have also shown that the effect of COVID vaccines diminishes with time.

COVID is here to stay! World Health Organisition (WHO) and experts worldwide have been suggesting for some time now that Omicron is not the last variant of concern and there is no guarantee that the next mutation won’t be an offshoot of a more dangerous variant such as delta. And if such is the case, then, are COVID vaccines going to be a yearly affair?

Future variants might show immune escape properties

Though vaccines have been one of the best ways to fight the first few variants of COVID, Omicron and its subvariants are showing immune escape properties. And there are high chances the future variants will also show similar traits.

“The virus keeps raising that bar for us every few months," said Akiko Iwasaki, a professor of epidemiology at Yale School of Medicine, as reported by Bloomberg. “When we were celebrating the amazing effectiveness of booster shots against the delta variant, the bar was already being raised by omicron."

“It seems like we are constantly trying to catch up with the virus," she said.

Effects of vaccines wane with time:

Several studies have also shown that the effect of vaccines diminishes with time. Previously an article published in Nature magazine suggested that people immunized against COVID-19 would lose approximately half of their defensive antibodies every 108 days or so.

As a result, vaccines that initially offered, say, 90% protection against mild cases of disease might only be 70% effective after 6 or 7 months.

‘Neutralizing’ antibodies that can intercept viruses before they infiltrate cells might not have much staying power. Levels of these molecules typically shoot up after vaccination, then quickly taper off months later. “That’s how vaccines work," said Nicole Doria-Rose, an immunologist at the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in Bethesda, Maryland, as quoted by Nature

What WHO said on vaccination exercise in future?

Owing to these factors, the WHO had suggested the current COVID-19 vaccines may need to be reworked to ensure they are effective against future variants.

"The composition of current COVID vaccines may need to be updated to ensure that vaccines continue to provide WHO-recommended levels of protection against infection and disease by VOCs, including Omicron and future variants," they said.

They further added, "COVID-19 vaccines need to... elicit immune responses that are broad, strong and long-lasting in order to reduce the need for successive booster doses."

Pharma companies ‘tweaking’ vaccines

Many pharma companies like Pfizer BioNtech and Moderna have announced Omicron-specific vaccines, and several others are also working towards it.

Experts have suggested in order to keep up with the variants, the COVID vaccines might also need to upgraded constantly.

Would everybody need vaccines yearly?

That might not be the case. But, it is more necessary to identify who would need it and who wouldn't.

A recent study by the UK-based coronavirus tracker ZOE COVID app has pointed out if Omicron causes a relatively mild infection in most people, especially those who have already had three or four doses of the current vaccines, it becomes important to better identify who needs boosters and updated vaccines.

“The next big discussions will be around where we go in terms of protecting future vulnerable people" said Professor Wendy Barclay, Head of Infectious Diseases at Imperial College London, as quoted by ZOE.

Researchers are working hard on the current unknowns, such as how might the virus mutate next and whether antigenic escape - the ability of new variants to avoid our immune system - is driving milder infections.

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Updated: 14 Feb 2022, 11:20 PM IST
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