In little more than a year, the COVID-19 pandemic has reached every continent, causing 98 million confirmed cases and over 2 million deaths (as of Jan 25, 2021). Equally rapid has been the progress in vaccine development, with clinical trials commencing just months after the initial release of the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) genome on Jan 10, 2020. At present, a number of vaccines are already licenced or progressing through phase 3 trials. Most use a recombinant spike glycoprotein: either mRNA based (the Moderna and Pfizer–BioNTech vaccines), via an adenovirus vector (the Oxford–AstraZeneca, CanSino, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines), or via injection of the protein itself (the Novavax vaccine). In tandem with rapid vaccine development, widespread whole genome sequencing (WGS) efforts have provided more than 360 000 SARS-CoV-2 sequences on the Global Initiative on Sharing All Influenza Data platform. This sequencing has allowed researchers to track the spread of different lineages globally. Some mutations in the virus appear to provide fitness advantages and facilitate quicker spread of particular lineages, such as the globally dispersed variant with a Asp614Gly spike substitution, and the recently described variant of concern 202012/01 (B.1.1.7) lineage in the UK. A number of studies have yielded insight into the relationship between SARS-CoV-2 genomic variability and the host immune response; in this Comment, we discuss whether such variability has the potential to affect the efficacy of recently developed vaccines.


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Williams, T. & Burgers, W. 2021, 'SARS-CoV-2 evolution and vaccines: cause for concern?', The Lancet Respiratory Medicine, 9(4), pp. 333-335. https://doi.org/10.1016/S2213-2600(21)00075-8

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Last updated: 16 June 2022
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