Are all new options the same?
They all share a remarkably similar set of mutations in the virus’s spike protein – the part that attaches to human cells – but they are not identical. They all originated in areas where there have been sharp spikes in Covid cases recently.
Why did they appear at the same time?
Scientists are not sure. They are thought to be the product of a general evolutionary pressure. One theory is that patients who have Covid for an extended period of time allow the virus to mutate more efficiently. Britain, South Africa and Brazil have many such cases.
Can they avoid vaccines?
Pfizer and AstraZeneca believe their vaccines will still work against the British version. The jury is still not working for the other two. There are some laboratory studies that suggest that the South African variant may eventually avoid existing antibodies (produced by vaccines or a natural infection) in some cases. However, experts say it is unlikely that the vaccine will suddenly stop working together. They are more likely to become less effective as the virus changes.
Is this model normal?
Yes, respiratory viruses tend to “deviate”
How easy is the vaccine update process?
In theory, it should be quite simple. While the changes that need to be made in vaccines are moderate (only four or five changes in more than 1000 amino acids of spike protein), then new vaccines can be produced quickly and without lengthy regulatory approval. New RNA vaccines like the one made by Pfizer can also be changed faster than conventional vaccines.