Towards the end of last year, the E484K mutation was detected in a COVID-19 variant found in South Africa.
This variant is said to be more transmissible than the coronavirus that first emerged in China. However, it doesn’t seem to increase the severity of the virus.
Why Should We Be Concerned?
Experts have expressed some concern about the E484K mutation in regard to decreasing the efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccines.
“We fear this mutation might have an impact, and what we don’t know is the extent of the impact,” Penny Moore, from the National Institute for Communicable Diseases, a national public health institute in South Africa, told CNN, “describing the mutation as “alarming.”
COVID-19 vaccines are effective by inducing the body’s immune system, which results in the body producing proteins (antibodies) that locate and neutralize the coronavirus.
The cause for concern results from emerging evidence from various recent studies suggesting that the E484K mutation reduces some of the variants’ abilities to produce antibodies that neutralize the virus.
Researchers are actively investigating the mutation to figure out if it truly reduces the efficacy of vaccines and how much. There is no way to know for sure until further research proves it.
Will the Vaccines Still Work?
At this point, scientists believe the E484K mutation is unlikely to make the available COVID-19 vaccines completely ineffective since they induce a strong immune response and provide high-levels of protection against the virus.
“If I had to bet right now, I would say the vaccines are going to remain effective for the things that really count—keeping people from getting deathly ill,” Jeremy Luban, a virologist at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester, told Nature.
Over time, the coronavirus is bound to accumulate new mutations, which brings about further concerns as to what will happen.
“It creates more opportunities for the virus to learn how to be resistant to the vaccine,” Paul Bieniasz, a virologist at the Rockefeller University, told CNN. “It’s going to be, over time, likely chipping away at vaccine efficacy, but we’re not going to fall off a cliff tomorrow.”Related: COVID-19 Vaccine When Can You Get It