RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Anyone who’s vaccinated would like to know that they’re protected from any new COVID-19 variant.
“How soon those variants come and how quickly we can adapt, that’s the part that is a little more difficult to answer,” said Jennifer Pancorbo, director of industry programs and research at North Carolina State University’s Biomanufacturing Training and Education Center.
Pancorbo hopes that one day predicting the next dominant COVID-19 variant is as easy as it is with the flu. But, there are challenges. Unlike COVID-19, influenza is seasonal, giving scientists more time to identify the most likely prevalent strains as it moves from one hemisphere to the next.
There are also worldwide monitoring systems for the flu that have been in place for decades.
“We don’t yet have that kind of a system to monitor strains and know which one might be problematic. And therefore, we’re kind of catching ourselves here in a problem because monitoring is not quite there yet to respond to a potential quick mutation,” Pancorbo said.
Testing is key to the early detection of new problematic variants. Those COVID-19 tests aren’t readily available or reportable in much of the world.
“The virus has adapted to mutate quite quickly, and because of that, we kind of need to gear up our systems in a way that is more representative of the needs of COVID versus what has happened with flu,” Pancorbo said.
The rate of transmission and how sick a variant can make people are two risks Pancorbo said will heavily factor into what the strategy is to beat it.
“Then we might have to think about a different type of campaign — meaning instead of a booster shot, we might need to do a two-shot type of campaign like we did originally. Then we have to think if we are going to do a booster, that’s one thing. If we are doing a two-shot round, then how are we going to dedicate the facility time to manufacture all of this,” Pancorbo said.
“So, responding is a complicated answer because responding to all of that depends on so many parameters we, unfortunately, don’t yet know about.”