COVID-19 vaccine ‘boosters’ to become the norm in future, says genome expert

COVID-19 vaccine ‘boosters’ to become the norm in future, says genome expert

Booster shots to prevent infections from coronavirus mutations will become the norm in the future, according to a top genome expert in the United Kingdom. 

“We have to appreciate that we were always going to have to have booster doses; immunity to coronavirus doesn’t last forever,” Sharon Peacock, the head of the COVID-19 Genomics UK, exclusively told Reuters. COG-UK, which was created by Peacock about a year ago in response to COVID-19 and is a consortium of public health and academic institutions, has sequenced some 349,205 genomes of the virus out of a global effort of about 778,000 genomes, the outlet reported. 

Just like the annual flu shot, boosters for COVID-19 will likely be needed to combat coronavirvus variants that could occur in the future, said Peacock. 

“We already are tweaking the vaccines to deal with what the virus is doing in terms of evolution —  so there are variants arising that have a combination of increased transmissibility and an ability to partially evade our immune response,” she added. 

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Speaking to preexisting coronavirvus variants, Peacock said she is most concerned about B.1.351, which was first identified in South Africa. 

“It is more transmissible, but it also has a change in a gene mutation, which we refer to as E484K, which is associated with reduced immunity —  so our immunity is reduced against that virus,” she told Reuters. 

Existing coronavirus vaccines have also been found to have reduced efficacy against the South African mutation, in particular, ultimately prompting Moderna, as well as Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson, to create new vaccines to better combat variants. Moderna in February announced that the COVID-19 vaccine it recently developed to address the B.1.351 mutation is ready to be tested in humans in clinical trials.

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Speaking broadly to the possibility a future pandemic, Peacock also told Reuters that she expects another “virus of concern” to emerge at some point. However, she noted: “What I hope is that having learned what we have in this global pandemic, that we will be better prepared to detect it and contain it.”