The web portal answers important questions about the Covid-19 vaccines. It puts together the latest information on the effect, functioning, development and approval of the vaccines.

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How do new virus variants emerge and are the vaccines effective against them?

New virus variants of Sars-CoV-2 are constantly emerging. This is a natural process that occurs as the virus spreads: Every time the DNA of the virus is replicated, there is a chance of errors, so called mutations. On average, around two mutations of the SARS-CoV-2 virus occur every month.

These mutations permit scientists to distinguish between different genetic lineages or variants of the virus. While most mutations are of no use to the virus, in rare cases they may prove advantageous. For instance, some variants may be more transmissible. However, the manner in which they infect human cells remains the same.

At the moment, the most widespread virus variants are the lines BA.4 and BA.5, subvariants of Omicron. These lines have different changes in their genetic material, some of which occur in the spike protein region.

The mRNA vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer/Biontech as well as the vector vaccine from Johnson & Johnson offer also with the Omicron variant a high level of protection against a severe course of the disease. In contrast, they provide only limited protection against infection with Omicron (asymptomatic or mild course). The efficacy of the different vaccines towards the new variants is currently being further investigated.

The vector vaccines and mRNA vaccines can be modified relatively quickly and easily, if necessary, to take account of any new virus variants. One mRNA vaccine adapted to Omicron from Moderna and one from Pfizer/Biontech, respectively, are authorized as booster vaccines in Switzerland. In studies, these adapted vaccines achieved a stronger immune response against the Omicron variant than the original vaccines. It is not yet known whether the adapted vaccines also provide better protection against infection and a severe course of disease caused by Omicron

New variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus emerge continuously. A good overview of the sequenced virus variants is available at https://nextstrain.org/ncov/global.