Similar to bacteria evolving resistance to antibiotics, viruses can evolve resistance to vaccines, and the evolution of SARS-CoV-2 could undermine the effectiveness of vaccines that are currently under development, according to a paper published Nov. 9 in the open-access journal PLOS Biology by David Kennedy and Andrew Read from Penn State. The authors also offer recommendations to vaccine developers for minimizing the likelihood of this outcome.
"A COVID-19 vaccine is urgently needed to save lives and help society return to its pre-pandemic normal," said Kennedy, assistant professor of biology at Penn State. "As we have seen with other diseases, such as pneumonia, the evolution of resistance can quickly render vaccines ineffective. By learning from these previous challenges and by implementing this knowledge during vaccine design, we may be able to maximize the long-term impact of COVID-19 vaccines."
The researchers specifically suggest that the standard blood and nasal-swab samples taken during clinical trials to quantify individuals' responses to vaccination may also be used to assess the likelihood that the vaccines being tested will drive resistance evolution. For example, the team proposes that blood samples can be used to assess the redundancy of immune protection generated by candidate vaccines by measuring the types and amounts of antibodies and T-cells that are present.