Dr Nicole Ramlachan

While the debate on vaccine efficacy rages, with some people hoping to wait until their preferred COVID-19 doses arrive, Professor of Biotechnology at the University of Trinidad & Tobago, Dr Nicole Ramlachan, said the AstraZeneca currently being used and the incoming Jansen (Johnson & Johnson) vaccines have proven to work against variants.

Speaking on CNC3’s The Morning Brew yesterday, Ramlachan said that while United States (US) companies Pfizer–BioNTech and Moderna produced their vaccines ahead of others, the clinical trials only included its effectiveness against the original COVID-19 variants. These vaccines showed good efficacy of 95 per cent and 98 per cent. However, clinical trials on the Jansen and AstraZeneca vaccines took place in countries with more variants of COVID-19.

“That is where we saw those lower efficacy numbers, which I think is a very interesting point to bring up. When people talk about 66 per cent in AstraZeneca and 72 per cent in Johnson & Johnson, they have to remember that they were tested against the variants, which is great if we can get 66 per cent and 72 per cent against a variant that was mutated so early on, like the BETA (South African variant),” Ramlachan said.

There are those refusing the AstraZeneca vaccine because of its rare incidences of thrombocytopenia. However, doctors recently found a small link between the Pfizer vaccine and myocarditis in young males. Ramlachan said every vaccine could elicit side effects. However, she said, COVID-19 brings heart diseases and inflammation that people may not survive. She warned that vaccines do not prevent infections but would stimulate an antibody response to fight a virus.

Ramlachan was not surprised at the dominance of the Brazilian variant now being called Gamma, saying that mutations are known to become endemic quickly. She referred to the US, where the UK variant took over the Wuhan variants that initially infected the population.

“What we have been finding is that a lot of these variants are becoming endemic into areas where they were not previously isolated, and they are allowing the virus to transmit better. They find a host and take hold of the host a lot easier. There are different types of hosts. Some of them are more adaptive to ACE2 receptors in adults. Some of the variants are more adaptive to ACE2 receptors in youths and children. It is what we are seeing with the Gamma (variant) that was first isolated in South America. It seems to be a little more able to infect and create disease in children and youth, which is worrying. We are seeing a lot of that in South American countries.”

She explained that the mutations occur because of the changes in the spike proteins, which are natural. While there are other changes, she said the concern is the increased transmissibility, increased disease and the evasion of immunity.

“Of course, more and more variants are going to come in. And as more and more variants come in, the play might change. It is not surprising. I am glad that they are getting that data, and they can identify the variants because they are really the key in terms of what strategy we need to use to be able to fight this.”