Concretely, the team of Prof. David Alsteens has established that the variants attach themselves to our cells rather by a scratch system, via multiple and more stable bonds over a larger area, while the initial virus, for its part, used a single point attachment system. This explains why the variants manage to attach themselves better to the cells of the human body, and the greater difficulty in getting rid of them. “In this scratch system, each small bond is not as strong as that of the single point of attachment, but, together, all these small bonds generate a very stable interaction of the variants with our cells,” explains the researchers.
The question that arises is therefore to know whether it is necessary to adapt the vaccines to this discovery, in order to better counter these multiple bindings. “No”, according to Sophie Lucas, immunologist at UCLouvain. “The vaccine produces many different antibodies that bind to various places on this spike protein to prevent it from attaching to and infecting our cells. While the majority of antibodies produced following vaccination are still able to bind to the spike protein of a variant, the vaccines remain very effective against the variant in question. And this is currently the case with the delta variant ”.
Whether the new omicron variant will be a game-changer remains to be seen. “The ideal would obviously be to be able to develop a vaccine that would educate our immune system against a stable part common to all variants of SARS-CoV 2. A universal vaccine”.