04.01.2021, 20:39

Local COVID-19 vaccine trials not affected by new coronavirus variant: experts

Local COVID-19 vaccine trials not affected by new coronavirus variant: experts

NDO – The new variant of SARS-CoV-2 will not affect the research and testing progress of the locally-made COVID-19 vaccine in Vietnam, according to researchers and vaccine producers.

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Vietnam officially recorded the appearance of VOC 202012/01, the recently discovered and highly contagious variant of SARS-CoV-2, on January 2, following an analysis of a specimen from Patient 1,435, a Vietnamese woman repatriated from the UK in mid-December last year.

The 45 year old, residing in Tra Vinh province, was put into concentrated isolation in her hometown immediately upon her entry.

The Ho Chi Minh City Pasteur Institute immediately conducted genetic sequencing and found that Patient 1,435 has been infected with the new variant VOC 202012/01, recently discovered in the UK.

Health Minister Nguyen Thanh Long said that the new variant of SARS-CoV-2 increases transmission rates by up to 70% but does not increase the severity of illness.

Facing the risk of an invasion of this new variant, the Ministry of Health has asked localities to increase testing, especially urging institutes to conduct genetic sequencing on entries from the UK.

According to epidemiologists, viruses that cause infectious diseases always mutate over time, especially those that cause respiratory diseases, such as SARS-CoV-2. The new strain of SARS-CoV-2 is a sign that viruses are gradually adapting to humans. They then have a faster rate of transmission but do not see an overall worsening of the effects of the disease.

Associate Professor, Dr. Tran Dac Phu, former Director of Department of Preventive Medicine under the Ministry of Health, said that the new strain of the SARS-CoV-2 virus has been recorded to have a very fast speed and great ability to spread, especially when it appears in the community.

The hospital is be the first place to spot COVID-19 patients. However, when this new strain appears in the hospital, control and treatment will face many new difficulties. Therefore, patients carrying the new variant of this virus, if not immediately quarantined, pose a very high risk of spreading the virus in the community, said Phu.

Fortunately, Vietnam took timely measures to analyse and quarantine immediately Patient 1,435, so the possibility that this strain has spread into the community is quite unlikely.

Currently, several COVID-19 vaccines have been officially put into use. Vietnam is also testing its first vaccine, Nanocovax, and is hoping to put the second, produced by the Institute of Vaccines and Medical Biologicals (IVAC), into its human trial phase later this January.

Professor Dang Duc Anh, Director of the National Institute of Hygiene and Epidemiology, said that the antigen of the COVID-19 vaccine affects the S protein of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, while the mutation of this virus only occurs in some regions, so it does not affect the clinical trial progress of the vaccine in Vietnam.

The patient infected with the new strain was isolated after returning from abroad, so there is no risk of spread to the community. For all samples from suspected cases, institutes have conducted genetic analysis and sequencing to detect the new strain in time.

Currently, NANOGEN’s Nanocovax vaccine is in phase 1 of its human clinical trials and the company is committed to providing 100% protection against all coronavirus strains.

Later this January, IVAC will enter its Covivac vaccine into clinical trials. Dr. Duong Huu Thai, Director of IVAC, said that scientific studies have not yet evaluated the impact of COVID-19 vaccines on the new strain. Therefore, this variant has not influenced IVAC’s COVID-19 vaccine testing process.

Currently, the Company for Vaccine and Biological Production No.1 (VABIOTECH – under the Ministry of Health) has also met safety conditions while testing its COVID-19 vaccine on animals. The vaccine is in the final stage of animal trials, hoping to gain sufficient results to assess the immune response and protective effect of the vaccine in animals.

According to Dr. Do Tuan Dat, President of VABIOTECH, scientists have repeatedly recorded the mutation of the coronavirus. With each mutation, it is capable of spreading with a higher level of contagion.

For COVID-19 vaccines, normally, manufacturers will select the most stable gene region of the virus to induce an immune response, Dat said. Accordingly, the selected genetic region must have the most genetic stability, ensuring sustainability. If an unstable gene area is chosen, when it affects the immune system, it will not create an immune zone. Therefore, researchers often have to make certain changes to the desired genetic region in order to produce vaccines.

Currently, manufacturers are most concerned only with the virus mutating in the selected genome. However, the new variant found in the UK is in the genomic region that manufacturers chose to make vaccines (S region), so scientists are continuing to monitor the evolution of this variant to make further, more detailed evaluations.

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