Concretely, a team of scientists from UCLouvain, led by Prof. David Alsteens, observed that the variants, in particular the Kappa variant, adopt a new strategy to bind more efficiently to the cells they wish to invade. “Rather than increasing the strength of their binding to a specific location of our ACE2 receptors – the main gateway for the coronavirus into our cells, they multiply the small bonds over a larger area. The result: the ‘global’ binding of the variant to cells is more stable “, we can read in the press release.
“It’s a bit as if the original strain of SARS-CoV 2 binds to our cells using a push button and the variants have instead opted for a scratch system where every little binding is is not as strong as that of the pressure button but, together, all these small bonds generate a very stable interaction of the variants with our cells “, illustrated the researchers of this study, published in Nature Communications.
No need to adapt vaccines
As for the question of whether the vaccines had to be adapted to the new variants, this is not yet the case, said Sophie Lucas, immunologist and president of the Duve Institute at UCLouvain. She says the vaccine produces many different antibodies that prevent the virus from attaching to and infecting human cells. “We must monitor this continuously – and it is moreover thanks to this continuous monitoring that the omicron variant has just been discovered – but for the moment, there is no interest in modifying the vaccines” , said Ms. Lucas.
For Sophie Lucas, when the immunity and the antibodies generated by the current vaccines and their booster will no longer be sufficient to fight the variants in circulation, it will then be time to adapt the vaccines. “It is possible that we observe this for omicron, but we do not know it today and it will still take time to determine it. The ideal would obviously be to be able to develop a vaccine allowing to educate our immune system. against a stable part common to all variants of SARS-CoV 2. A universal vaccine “, she further underlined.