China Claims Its Coronavirus Vaccine Can Protect Against All Known Mutations

The developer of a potential coronavirus vaccine in China has claimed it can protect against all known mutations of the virus.

The vaccine being developed by the company CanSino Biological Inc. and the Beijing Institute of Biotechnology at the Academy of Military Medical Sciences is based on a type of virus called adenovirus Ad5 to deliver coronavirus genes into cells. This prompts the cells to create viral proteins and trigger an immune response, without the virus replicating.

Phase 1 and 2 trials on the vaccine published in the scientific journal The Lancet earlier this year suggested the vaccine is safe and could trigger an immune response in people.

The vaccine would be effective against all known mutations, Chen Wei, an academic at the Chinese Academy of Engineering and a researcher at the Institute of Military Medicine told China's state-run Xinhua News Agency, according to the Global Times newspaper, which is also state-run.

She made the comments after a version of the coronavirus known as D614G was linked to outbreaks in Asia, Europe and the U.S., prompting fears about the future of a vaccine. However, experts have previously told Newsweek there is no immediate threat.

Chen said the part of the virus's genetic material used in the vaccine mutates slowly, and if there is a serious mutation, the vaccine could be changed to adapt.

Mutations are a normal part of the life-cycle of viruses, and there is currently no evidence that the virus has mutated into different strains. A strain is where the lineage of a virus is genetically distinct by one or more mutations.

SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus which causes COVID-19, consists of genetic material, called RNA, wrapped up in protein. When a virus infects a host, it makes new copies of its genetic data so it can replicate. This process leads to small changes in the virus's genetic information, called mutations. There have been tens of thousands of mutations to the coronavirus in the pandemic so far.

Chen said the vaccine was expected to offer immunity for two years, if a second booster shot is administered.

The vaccine is one of almost 200 currently being developed against the coronavirus that has infected over 27.3 million people and killed almost 893,000 since late last year. There are currently no specific treatments for COVID-19, although some therapies have been repurposed, and no vaccine.

Ian Jones, professor of virology at the U.K.'s University of Reading who is also not working on the vaccine, told Newsweek "the claim that the vaccine can cover all coronavirus mutations is a little stretched. What is meant is that the coronavirus gene incorporated [in the vaccine] can be changed easily to match any future circulating strain, which is not quite the same as a true universal vaccine.

"However, currently there is no indication that this is required as the virus has not changed in any meaningful way as far as vaccine protection is concerned."

Daniel Davis, professor of immunology at the University of Manchester, U.K. who is not involved in China's vaccine research, told Newsweek: "It is certainly possible that if some vaccines work in protecting us, they will still be able to work across some different versions of this virus. It all depends on where mutations occur within the genetic sequence of the virus and whether or not this coincides with the part of the virus targeted by a vaccine."

Davis, the author of The Beautiful Cure, a book about vaccines and the immune system, said: "Right now, we must first find out whether or not the immune response triggered by any of these vaccines is powerful enough to protect us from the disease. This is humankind's most pressing issue."

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A stock image shows a person being vaccinated. Almost 200 coronavirus vaccine candidates are currently under development.