Variants Pose a Production Conundrum

The growing spread of variants—like the more contagious B.1.1.7 variant first found in the UK that is now dominant in the US, NBC News reports—is placing more pressure on vaccine makers to adapt.
They’re already running clinical trials for variant-focused vaccines.

The problem: In the US, there is “virtually no capacity” to produce modified vaccines or boosters on top of the original vaccines, POLITICO reports

  • First-generation jabs were already being produced while still in clinical trials—but now, with production lines packed, that’s a long-gone luxury.

Plus: Big questions remain about the impact of variants on vaccines, including whether booster shots would sufficiently ramp up protection. 

  • While early US data show Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines can fight off the major variants, the P.1 variant first found in Brazil has been shown to evade some vaccines.

All this leaves manufacturers and officials with a tough choice of whether to prioritize production of revised shots—and sequencing gaps only add to the uncertainty.

Sequencing Struggle: Genomic sequencing is key to understanding variants’ spread. But while US labs have doubled their rate of virus sequencing in the past 2 months, the country is still punching far below its weight, frustrating researchers, reports Amy Maxmen in Nature.
A key hurdle: A disjointed infrastructure for sharing samples. 

  • “The biggest challenge is that we don’t have a single health system,” says Art Reingold of the University of California, Berkeley. “It’s a nightmare.”
  • Sequencing capacity is also a problem in South America, where the P.1 variant is being blamed for climbing cases, BBC reports.
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