The coronavirus plague is mutating. Will our vaccines keep up?

John M. Barry is the author of “The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History”, and Distinguished Scholar at the Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine.

Making vaccines is hard. Making vaccines that keep up with mutations is even harder. The race is now on to keep up with the mutating coronavirus.

Mutations occur when the genetic code of an organism is not copied accurately during cell replication. This is true in humans and viruses, but viruses make orders of magnitude more copying mistakes than humans do. These mutations are random, and the vast majority have no impact on or damage the virus.

For example, influenza mutates so rapidly that approximately 99 percent of virus particles produced by an infected cell are defective — so defective that they cannot infect another cell and replicate. Unfortunately, the part of the influenza virus most easily recognized by our immune systems — which the influenza vaccine mimics to stimulate an immune response — can mutate without destroying the virus’s ability to infect. Vaccine makers are constantly playing catch-up.

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Source: Washington Post