Vaccines Working Against All COVID-19 Variants: WHO Chief Scientist

New York: At a time when a new variant of coronavirus (XE) has been detected in some countries including India, the World Health Organization (WHO) delivered a very comforting message on Sunday.

According to WHO chief scientist Dr Soumya Swaminathan, COVID vaccines are currently working against all variants of SARS-CoV2 virus in preventing severe disease and death.

She, however, added that there may be a need to redesign vaccines to adapt to new variants in the future.

“This is just in a worst-case scenario where the virus recombines, mutates or changes in a way where it may lead to overcoming the immunity that we have with the vaccines today. In such a case, we may have to update our vaccines – along the lines of influenza vaccines every year. A committee from the WHO meets twice a year and picks the most widely circulating strains that should go into the influenza vaccine,” Dr Swaminathan said.

She was speaking as chief guest at the Think Again Conclave lecture series organized as part of BITS Pilani’s 40th edition of APOGEE, the institute’s annual technical extravaganza.

“We don’t know if that will be required for Covid-19 at this point of time, as our current vaccines are working against existing variants of concern. In future if we need to, we may have to change the composition of vaccines and we need to be prepared for that. Therefore, sequencing and surveillance are important,” the WHO chief scientist added.

She was of the opinion that the disease could become endemic. “This does not mean that it becomes mild or disappears, but it stays in the human population like other infections – influenza, respiratory viruses, malaria and tuberculosis. They kill a lot of people but we cannot expect to eradicate them. However, in this case we have good vaccines and with high vaccination coverage we can achieve a level of population immunity that can prevent most people from getting sick.”

She said there could be periodic localised surges. So the effort should always be there on reducing transmission by wearing masks and adopting COVID-appropriate behaviour, especially in crowded and low-ventilated places.

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