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Mutants Among Us: Can Viruses Evolve to Defeat a Vaccinated Population?

After vaccines teach the immune system to identify SARS-CoV-2, it becomes nimble and adept at attacking anything that resembles it.

Are viral mutations more or less likely to emerge from vaccinated populations, and why? Dr. Monica Gandhi explains why most experts believe the answer is less likely. Data shows that our T cells adapt to attack variants of the virus that causes COVID-19, thereby rebutting theories that vaccines spur the rise of variants, similar the way antibiotics can give rise to newly resistant strains of bacteria.

"There’s really nice data that shows if you produce memory B cells, they will adapt their antibodies to work against variants they see in the future," says Gandhi. "I think that’s amazing. What that means is it’s not like antibiotics. It means the system is adaptive, and can crush anything that it sees." 

"It’s all explained by immunology,” she says. “We’re moving into the ‘endemic’ phase of COVID, and will control severe disease through vaccination.”

Dr. Ghandi is associate division chief of Infectious Disease and Global Medicine at San Francisco General Hospital and a professor of medicine at UC-San Francisco Medical School. She is also a member of the COVID Collaborative and a regular contributor to the opinion pages of leading newspapers, including the Washington Post and Wall Street Journal. See her Washington Post article about why COVID is here to stay.

Watch the full Roundtable interview here: