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COVID-19 Variants: Will the vaccine still work?

By Dr. James Simony

The most recent news on the COVID-19 front has been the “discovery” of virus variants. This has fueled concern about the effectiveness of the vaccine. Unfortunately, the media has been negligent regarding accurate health information throughout the pandemic and continues to be so.

Viruses by their nature create variants at an astounding rate. Most of these variants lead to viruses that cannot spread or re-infect. The analogy that I like to use is that of a bank robber changing disguises. Viruses are always trying to change themselves to avoid detection, detention, and destruction. The vaccine targets a conserved protein that the virus uses to attach to cells. This is like a bank robber who always wears a black ski mask. The vaccine targets the black mask and all viruses with that black mask get rounded up by the immune system. The bank robber (the virus) might wear black boots. This might make him slower on the getaway and allow the immune system to better catch him. If the bank robber switches to red running shoes he might be able to evade the immune system. This is what happens with different strains, but if the bank robber (virus) is wearing a black ski mask the vaccine will work. Now if the bank robber (virus) changes to a blue ski mask the vaccine may work, just not as effectively, but if the bank robber (virus) changes to a yellow ball cap and sunglasses the vaccine may not work. This is why we need different flu shots each year. Sometimes a virus may not match exactly with the vaccine, and we catch the flu just not as bad.

Therefore, it is important to survey for changes in COVID-19 as we are doing now and will continue to need to do. The vaccine is still thought to be safe and effective and I highly recommend it for anyone who is able. As of this writing, we are not giving the vaccine to pediatric patients. I suspect that we will be giving the vaccine to high school students and likely to middle school and elementary school students, pending FDA approval. I am not sure yet if we will be giving the vaccine to infants and preschoolers yet. I encourage patients and parents to continue to seek out information from reliable sources and to occasionally take media time outs. It is easy to get overwhelmed these days, so as always, stay safe and stay sane.

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