As the number of SARS-CoV-2 infections around the world passes eight million, hopes still remain on a vaccine being developed. But what does it mean for a potential vaccine if the new coronavirus mutates?
Well, the bottom line is that all viruses mutate, it is part of their life cycle, so there’s a very good chance that SARS-CoV-2 will too. The good news though is that mutations can actually lead to weaker viruses, although the reality is that there’s usually no noticeable difference in the disease’s transmission and fatality rates. This seems to be the case with SARS-CoV-2.
Mutations that are currently spreading around places like New York do not seem to be any more infectious or fatal than the original strain that came out of Wuhan, China, in late December.
According to the Scripps Research Institute in Florida, any SARS-CoV-2 vaccine that is developed will also likely be effective against mutated forms of the virus. It’s the reason why our very effective vaccine for measles, mumps, and rubella (which are RNA viruses like SARS-CoV-2) still protects us, despite these viruses mutating over the years.
So even if SARS-CoV-2 mutates further down the road, while we might see some breakthrough infections, it wouldn’t necessarily lead to a new pandemic.
[Related reading: How long before there’s a coronavirus vaccine?]