COVID-19 Vaccines Could Add Fuel To Evolution Of Coronavirus Mutations

Mutations in the new coronavirus could reduce the effectiveness of vaccines against it. But vaccines themselves can also drive viral mutations, depending on exactly how the shots are deployed and how effective they are.

So far, vaccines still appear to work against the new strains – though scientists are warily watching a variant that first appeared in South Africa since it seems to reduce vaccine effectiveness. And evolution isn’t standing still, so scientists realize they may need to update vaccines to keep them working reliably.

What’s going on here is somewhat similar to a larger, and more concerning problem in medicine: Many bacteria have gradually evolved the ability to survive even when walloped by a large dose of antibiotics. That problem has created new strains of deadly, drug-resistant germs.

Viruses also evolve, but the process is different and the result is usually much less severe when it comes to vaccines. When a virus such as the coronavirus infects someone, that person’s immune system mounts a response. Viruses produce slight variations when they multiply, and if any of these variants can evade a person’s immune response, those variants are more likely to survive and possibly to spread to other people.

So far, the concerning coronavirus strains have appeared in individuals who have not been vaccinated. But this evolution can happen in vaccinated people, as well.