Chinese analysts confident in vaccine redesign to handle coronavirus mutations
Published: Feb 03, 2021 08:37 PM

A man wearing a mask receives a dose of COVID-19 vaccine at a COVID-19 immunization clinic at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre in Toronto, Canada, on Jan. 18, 2021. (Photo by the City of Toronto/Xinhua)

A new coronavirus variant found in the UK that shares characteristics with variants dominant in South Africa and Brazil are causing many Westerners to worry about reduced vaccine efficacy, but Chinese experts reassured the public that the redesign of both mRNA and inactivated vaccines can be completed within two months.

The UK health authority said on Tuesday that researchers had detected 11 cases in the UK involving a new variant called E484K, which mutated from a previous variant that prevailed from December and dragged the country into chaos. 

The new variant is also present in the family of variants that caused COVID-19 flare-ups in South Africa and Brazil, the Financial Times reported.

Apart from being 25- to 40-percent more contagious than other sequences of the virus, studies suggested the mutations are more deadly, evident in the surging number of critically ill patients among elderly, Tao Lina, a Shanghai-based vaccine expert, told the Global Times on Wednesday.

US chief immunologist Anthony Fauci had warned that the mutations could cause "a very high rate of reinfection" among people who had contracted the previous dominant sequences of the virus.

Tao pointed out that existing vaccines have been found to be less effective on the sequence dominant in South Africa, but he noted that mRNA and inactivated vaccines can be adjusted in accordance with the variants very quickly. 

Moderna and some other producers are already developing booster shots and new vaccines to deal with the mutations, media reported. 

Chinese inactivated vaccines, which are proven to be effective albeit with slightly weakened efficacy against the sequence first detected in South Africa, can be redesigned in two months to tackle new variants, said Shao Yiming, a leading expert providing advice on China's vaccine research and development. 

Tao noted the adjusted vaccines could be either a new version of a vaccine or an additional shot that will be used in combination of a current version. 

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