Vaccines up to challenge of evolving COVID-19 variants

COVID-19 variants are finding methods to elude antibody protection, but the scientists with UW Medicine who made that discovery say vaccines are holding strong against the mutations.

Dr. David Veesler’s lab, in the Department of Biochemistry at the UW School of Medicine, generated national headlines this month by observing the epsilon variant evading the grip of antibodies from samples of plasma belonging to vaccinated people.

But the epsilon variant isn’t alone in this ability.

“Many variants, including this one, have the ability to evade to some extent the immunity we’ve built with vaccines,” says Veesler, who points to a mutation found in both the epsilon strain and the now-dominant delta variant that can overcome neutralization created by antibodies. “But this extent is not enough to make vaccines ineffective.”

Veesler is a leading voice when it comes to understanding the power of COVID-19. He has six years of experience at UW Medicine working to understand the mechanics of a wide range of SARS-like coronaviruses. His lab’s work became amplified as COVID-19 rapidly spread to create the current pandemic.

“It has been a very, very odd feeling to see the world coming to a standstill, due to the emergence of a coronavirus,” says Veesler.

You’ve already heard his key to harnessing the pandemic: vaccinations continue to be the answer.

“As long as we are not all going to be vaccinated, we will be in conditions that are favoring the emergence of more and more variants,” says Veesler. “In my opinion, never [have] human beings come together to get as much done as we all collectively have done to be able to have vaccines that are so effective in such a short amount of time. That's just amazing.”

UW Medicine