“We’re not going to get rid of it overnight, so there is a chance the virus may evolve and we may need to reformulate the vaccine.”By Meghan Schiller

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – Inside a secure lab in Pittsburgh sit nearly two dozen scientists. They’re researching the latest variants of COVID-19.

“This virus is going to be with the human population for quite some time,” said Kevin McCarthy, assistant professor of microbiology and molecular genetics at Pitt. “We’re not going to get rid of it overnight, so there is a chance the virus may evolve and we may need to reformulate the vaccine.”

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It’s research that could inform a potential booster shot or adjustment to the vaccine.

“There’s about 20 faculty members and then all of their labs that are all giving their expertise to researching SARS-CoV-2.”

McCarthy and the team at the Center for Vaccine Research work in full suits, handling the live virus and the newest variants.

“Since vaccine is basically introducing you to the pathogen before you are infected, we are now working on vaccines behind the scenes to protect people against variants before they become widespread.”

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KDKA’s Meghan Schiller asked if we’ll need a shot every year, like the flu.

“What that means in terms of an annual shot, I do not know. But, I think that it’s good that we’re thinking about it and we’re working at it.”

As for the concept of a potential booster shot, McCarthy explained it like a tune-up.

“The virus has since changed since that sequence was reported in January of last year and so what a booster would do is show your body what the virus has done in the past year, in terms of its evolution,” said McCarthy.

But even though the virus can evolve, McCarthy said the current vaccine will still protect from variants.

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“Even though these variants are concerning, there’s still only a few substitutions or mutations that have been made in them and so most of the protein is the same as it was when it originated in Wuhan, China and so that allows our body to recognize most of it just not all of the virus,” said McCarthy.

Meghan Schiller