There aren’t many places left for the COVID-19 virus to mutate and evade immunity as it will only weaken over time, said the creator of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, the most widely distributed vaccine in the world.
“The virus cannot mutate completely because its spike protein must interact with the ACE2 receptor on the surface of the human cell in order to enter it,” Dame Sarah Gilbert, Principal Scientist at the University of Oxford, and the brain behind the vaccine made in India under the Covishield name, said during a webinar titled: “Vaccines, Variants and Infection: The Position This Winter” for the Royal Society of Medicine on Wednesday.
“If it changes its spike protein so much that it can’t interact with that receptor, then it won’t be able to get inside the cell. So there aren’t many places where the virus is. can go to have something that will elude immunity but remain contagious, ”she explained.
Comparing SARS-CoV-2 with other influenza viruses and the vaccine changes made for them each year, she said: “What tends to happen over time is that there are just a slow drift, that’s what happens with influenza viruses. You see little changes building up over a period of time and then we have an opportunity to respond to that. “
The expert said these viruses, by their very nature, tend to become less virulent over time, but there is no set time frame for how long it would take. “We normally see that viruses become less virulent as they circulate more easily and there is no reason to think that we will have a more virulent version of SARS-CoV-2,” she noted.
Ms Gilbert said the virus that causes COVID-19 will eventually become like the coronaviruses that circulate widely and cause the common cold.
“We tend to see a slow genetic drift of the virus and progressive immunity will develop in the population as is the case with all other seasonal coronaviruses. We are already living with four different human coronaviruses that we never really think very much about. and eventually SARS-CoV-2 will become one of them. The question is how long will it take to get there and what steps we will need to take to deal with it in the meantime, “she said.
The webinar also covered the topic of COVID-19 variants, with Professor Sharon Peacock, Executive Director of the COVID-19 UK Genomics Consortium, marking the Delta variant as ‘top of the list’.
“It has been fairly quiet since Delta emerged and it would be nice to think that there won’t be any new worrisome variants. If I was pushed to predict, I think there will be new variants emerging at the same time. over time and I think there is still a long way to go with this virus, ”she said.
Both experts stressed the importance of vaccinations to stay abreast of new mutations resistant to the COVID-19 vaccine.