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Study of coronavirus variants predicts virus evolving to escape current vaccines

The study was published in Nature on March 8, 2021. A preprint of the study was first posted to BioRxiv on January 26, 2021.

The study's predictions are now being borne out with the first reported results of the Novavax vaccine, says the study's lead author David Ho, MD. The company reported on Jan. 28 that the vaccine was nearly 90% effective in the company's U.K. trial, but only 49.4% effective in its South Africa trial, where most cases of COVID-19 are caused by the B.1.351 variant.

"Our study and the new clinical trial data show that the virus is traveling in a direction that is causing it to escape from our current vaccines and therapies that are directed against the viral spike," says Ho, the director of the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center and the Clyde'56 and Helen Wu Professor of Medicine at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons.

"If the rampant spread of the virus continues and more critical mutations accumulate, then we may be condemned to chasing after the evolving SARS-CoV-2 continually, as we have long done for influenza virus," Ho says. "Such considerations require that we stop virus transmission as quickly as is feasible, by redoubling our mitigation measures and by expediting vaccine rollout."

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