Russia’s release plan for Russia raises concerns about virus mutation

LONDON (Reuters) – Russia’s plan to roll out its “Sputnik-V” COVID-19 vaccine, even before full studies show how well it works, requires concern among virus experts, who warn of a partially effective shot at the new encourage coronavirus to mutate.

PHILO PHOTO: A handout photo provided by the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) shows examples of a coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine developed by the Gamaleya Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology, in Moscow, Russia August 6, 2020. Image taken August 6, 2020. The Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) / Disclosure by REUTERS

Viruses, including the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, are known for their ability to mutate all the time – and often have little or no effect on the risk to humans.

But some scientists are afraid that adding “evolutionary pressure” to the pathogen by inserting what may not be a fully protective vaccine could make things worse.

“Less than complete protection could provide a selection pressure that drives the virus to detect what antibodies are there, and to create strains that then evade all vaccine responses,” said Ian Jones, a virology professor at the British Reading University.

“In that sense, a bad vaccine is worse than no vaccine.”

Developers of Sputnik-V, such as financial backers and Russian authorities, say the vaccine is safe and that two months of small-scale human trials have shown that it works.

But the results of those tests have not been made public, and many Western scientists are skeptical, warning against its use until all internationally approved tests and regulatory barriers have been passed.

Russia said on Thursday it plans to launch a large-scale vaccine effectiveness test in a total of 40,000 people, but will also begin administering it to people in high-risk groups, such as health workers, before the trial has produced results.

“You want to make sure the vaccine is effective. We do not really know that (about the Sputnik vaccine), “said Kathryn Edwards, a professor of pediatrics and vaccine expert in the Division of Infectious Diseases at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in the United States.

She said the risk of what a vaccine could do to a virus – in terms of fighting, blocking or forcing it to adapt – “is always a concern”.

Dan Barouch, a specialist at Harvard’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, notes that mutation rates for coronaviruses are much lower than for viruses such as HIV, but added: “There are many potential disadvantages to using a vaccine that does not “The risk that it (the virus) would mutate is a theoretical risk.”

Scientists say similar evolutionary pressures to mutate are seen with bacterial pathogens, which – when confronted with antibiotics designed to target them – can evolve and adapt to evade the drug and develop resistance.

Antibiotic resistance and the rise of superbugs, is described by the World Health Organization as one of the biggest threats to global health, food security and development today.

Jones stresses that vaccine-induced viral mutations are “a rare outcome”, and the greater the effectiveness of the vaccine in blocking a virus’ ability to enter and replicate cells, the lower the risk of a chance has to circulate and “learn” How to get rid of antibodies.

“If (a vaccine) is completely sterilized, the virus cannot enter, so it can learn nothing because it never gets a chance,” he said. ‘But when it comes in and replicates … there’s a selection pressure to avoid what antibodies are generated by the ineffective vaccine. And you do not know what the outcome will be. ”

Report and writing by Kate Kelland in London, supplementary report by Julie Steenhuysen in Chicago. Edited by Mark Potter

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