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New strains impact COVID-19 vaccine roll-out; booster shot for new strains a possibility

Moderna Vaccine
Posted at 7:05 PM, Jan 25, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-26 11:17:38-05

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Vaccine companies are taking steps to make sure people are protected as new COVID-19 strains emerge across the world.

The virus that causes COVID-19 is copying frequently due to community spread which is why variants are popping up. "I mean this is just the war we have with all sorts of organisms. We get protection against them, they change again, so it’s not too surprising," Dr. Spyros Kalams said.

A new strain in South Africa is raising concerns because it might not be responsive to the vaccine. "So far the antibodies should still be good, but until you see what happens in the population, that’s just the test of the test tube, we don’t know for sure yet," Kalams said.

Dr. Spyros Kalams is an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, and he was a principal investigator for Moderna's vaccine trial. He said it's possible companies may come out with a booster shot to combat the new strains.

"I know you’re SARS-CoV-2 but you’re a different flavor of the virus... you’re a little bit different," Kalams said.

While the variants are unsettling, he thinks it's easy to make small alterations to the vaccine.

"If you look at the genetic code, there’s about 30,000 letters in it, and so they’re looking for where the changes are in those letters," Kalams said.

If folks have the opportunity, he still recommends they get vaccinated when it’s available. He said companies are already thinking about next-generation vaccines, and incorporating the changes so they combat new strains.

"Vaccinating and preventing the current strain that’s circulating in the United States, will make it less likely that these kinds of variants will happen here," Kalams said.

He also said it won't hurt the vaccines that are waiting for emergency use authorization in the U.S. "You don’t have to go back to the drawing board every single time," Kalams said.

The new strain that was first discovered in Great Britain, now has a couple of cases in Tennessee. So far, evidence shows the vaccines are effective in developing immunity against that strain.