Slow Rate of Mutation May Mean a Coronavirus Vaccine Would Offer Lasting Protection

Researchers studying the novel coronavirus’s genetic code say the virus is not mutating significantly as it moves through the human population, which increases the chance that a vaccine could provide long-lasting protection.

According to Peter Thielen, a molecular geneticist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, scientists studying more than 1,000 samples have found only about 4 to 10 genetic differences between the strains infecting people in the U.S. and the original virus that spread in Wuhan, China. “That’s a relatively small number of mutations for having passed through a large number of people,” Dr. Thielen told The Washington Post. “At this point, the mutation rate of the virus would suggest that the vaccine developed for SARS-CoV-2 would be a single vaccine, rather than a new vaccine every year like the flu vaccine.”

“When two flu viruses are in the same cell, they can swap some segments, potentially creating a new combination instantly – this is how the H1N1 ‘swine’ flu originated,” Benjamin Neuman, PhD, a virologist at Texas A&M University, explained. So far, there have been no signs of this happening with the novel coronavirus.

Source: The Washington Post, March 24, 2020.