COLUMBIA — As vaccine distributors develop Omicron-specific COVID-19 boosters, new research from the University of Missouri posits that the virus may be evolving too quickly for vaccines to keep pace.
"That virus is evolving under pressure of antibodies that are induced by vaccination," Dr. Kamlendra Singh, a professor at MU and one of the lead researchers, told KRCG 13. "Don't take me wrong, vaccines did work. They are still working. But the efficacy is not as what we expected because of the mutations."
Instead, data show, historically, that the COVID-19 variants and subvariants are adapting to evade antibodies from vaccines and previous infections.
Those antibodies work by targeting the spike protein of COVID-19. Dr. Singh said as mutations come, creating new variants and subvariants, the virus is "smart" enough to evolve and surpass those antibodies.
"There are many mutations," he said. "[And] the larger mutations are at the point where the vaccine-induced antibodies or prior infection-induced antibodies are supposed to bind."
Instead, he expressed skepticism at vaccine developers' ability to keep up with the virus, specifically with the Omicron-specific booster.
"I don't know how many vaccines they can create because the mutations are so diverse," Dr. Singh said. "In my opinion, I think the virus is moving faster than them. So I don't know how much they can keep pace with the virus."
Another COVID-19 researcher, Dr. Marc Johnson, has followed each of the variants and subvariants of COVID-19 for more than a year. He told KRCG 13 that any exposure to any form of vaccine would be beneficial, but, too, noted the ever-changing virus compared to vaccine development.
"With each new iteration of Omicron, [the virus] seems to have more immunity to whatever preexisting vaccine resistance or infection resistance we had," Dr. Johnson said.
Most cases of COVID-19 following the brief spike earlier this summer are the BA.5 subvariant of Omicron. Yet, Dr. Johnson, who helms the Sewershed Surveillance Project at the University of Missouri, said he's already looking into other new subvariants of the Omicron variant and anticipates the possible arrival of an entirely new variant in the coming months.
"It may be possible that, like influenza," Dr. Singh said, "we may have to get vaccines [against COVID-19] every year."