Rochester area residents taking part in COVID-19 vaccine trial aimed at South African variant

Jennifer Ly
Created: May 03, 2021 06:16 PM

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — Rochester medical researchers are once again at the forefront in the race to end the coronavirus pandemic.

The University of Rochester Medical Center and Rochester Regional Health are part of national studies to test a new vaccine for the South African variant, which emerged in late December. According to URMC, the variant carries two mutations in the spike protein that scientists speculate helps it evade existing vaccines and antibodies.

Like the variants in the U.K. and India, the so-called South African variant spreads more rapidly, but doctors say doesn't seem to be more lethal. 

So, why a new vaccine in response to the South African variant? 

“Unlike the U.K. variant, this particular variant did seem to resist the protection that the original vaccine provided,” said Dr. Edward Walsh, Professor of Medicine at University of Rochester Medical Center and Head of Infectious Diseases at Rochester Greater Hospital. 

When News10NBC asked if this new vaccine will be a booster for those who already received the vaccine or if people have to go through another series again and start all over, Walsh said it’s still to be determined.

“That's a very good question. It's much more likely that these variant vaccines including this one that we're testing would be used as a booster dose, predominantly," Walsh said.

When News10NBC asked if these COVID-19 vaccines are going to similar to yearly flu shots, Walsh also said it’s unclear. 

“We don't know the answer to that yet. It's obviously one that's on everyone's mind. I think it's probably not likely, but I wouldn’t want to say it's impossible that we might need a situation where on some regular basis a new vaccine would be required,” he said. 

Right now, the two trials—the booster and the stand-alone study—are taking place with more than 50 Rochester area residents participating. They'll be providing blood samples and reporting any side effects and symptoms over the next 18 months.

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