The People's Vaccine Alliance – a coalition of more than 50 worldwide public health bodies – conducted the survey from February 17 until March 25 of this year. They interviewed 77 health experts based in 28 countries worldwide.
Out of the interviewees, 66.2 percent believed that coronavirus mutations will render existing jabs useless within one year. The rest of the interviewees, on the other hand, were more optimistic. Around 18.2 percent said it would take at least two years before the vaccines become completely ineffective. Meanwhile, 7.8 percent expressed strong faith that future mutations will not compromise the effectiveness of vaccines. The remaining 7.8 percent were unsure of any time estimates.
Interestingly, the 66.2 percent who believed the effectiveness of coronavirus vaccines will decline with further mutations were divided when it comes to time estimates. The majority -- about 32.5 percent -- surmised that the protective effects of current COVID-19 jabs will drop in nine months or less, while 18.2 percent gave a shorter estimate of less than six months.
University of Edinburgh professor Dr. Devi Sridhar warned of this eventuality. "The more the virus circulates, the more likely it is that mutations and variants will emerge – which could make our current vaccines ineffective," she explained.
Meanwhile, Oxfam Health Policy Manager Anna Marriott said that the survey highlights the need for "a people's vaccine." This "people's vaccine" should aim for a two-fold purpose of protecting individuals already vaccinated from future mutations and safeguarding those in the world's poorest countries.
Yale University associate professor of epidemiology Gregg Gonsalves emphasized the importance of urgent vaccinations. He said: "With millions of people around the world infected with the virus, new mutations arise every day. These … variants could transmit more effectively and potentially evade immune responses to previous strains."
Sridhar agrees with Gonsalves. "As we've learned, viruses don't care about borders. We have to vaccinate as many people … everywhere in the world, as quickly as possible. Why wait and watch instead of getting ahead of this?"
Vaccine manufacturers have commenced development of booster shots due to the threat presented by new strains. Some of these so-called "variants of concern" include the B117 strain from the U.K., the B1351 from South Africa and the P1 strain first found in Brazil. Sinopharm and Moderna are now working on booster shots to address these more contagious strains that could possibly bypass the immune system.
In early March, Moderna began clinical trials for a booster shot of its mRNA Wuhan coronavirus vaccine. The objective of the trials is to determine if the shot provides better protection against the B1351 strain. Previous reports suggest that the South African variant causes a six-fold reduction in the number of antibodies meant to block viral receptors. This finding aroused concerns that the protection provided by Moderna's two-dose vaccine might fade sooner than expected.
The pharmaceutical firm nevertheless reiterated that its vaccine remains effective against the British and South African variants, as well as older strains. However, it did not specify if the vaccine provides the same amount of protection against the P1 strain first found in the Brazilian city of Manaus.
Meanwhile, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has started giving a third dose of the Sinopharm Wuhan coronavirus jab to a number of its citizens. During a December 2020 closed-door presentation, health authorities expressed concern that people might need a third dose if the current Sinopharm two-dose regimen fails to stimulate sufficient amounts of protective antibodies. The UAE is among the few countries that use the Chinese state-owned pharmaceutical firm's vaccine for COVID-19 immunization.
According to the Abu Dhabi newspaper The National, UAE Health Sector Official Spokeswoman Dr. Farida al Hosani remarked that "some people" had received a third booster shot but added that the number who did so "is very minimal" compared to those who only got two.
G42 Healthcare, which coordinated Sinopharm clinical trials in the Middle East, also confirmed the use of a third dose. It said that a "select group of people are being administered a third shot to observe the immune system response." When asked, the company refused to give any more details and referred reporters to Emirati health authorities, who also refused to respond.