COVID-19 booster vaccines are the 'future'

It’s been described as a game of "cat and mouse".

The novel coronavirus mutates around once every two weeks and as a result regular booster vaccines to fight it are very much a part of our future.

Sharon Peacock, who heads COVID-19 Genomics UK, has sequenced half of all the novel coronavirus genomes so far mapped globally.

She says international cooperation is essential in the battle against it.

It mutates slower than influenza or HIV, but enough to require tweaks to vaccines.

"We have to appreciate that we were always going to have to have booster doses; immunity to coronavirus doesn't last forever. We know that and we know that from looking at immunity against the common cold for example. So we know that there are waves of infection over time. So our immunity to coronavirus does wane so we were always going to be looking at booster doses over time. But now what we are looking at is the fact that the virus will continue to mutate, it's inevitable that that will occur but that we will keep ahead of that mutation by having available vaccines that cope with the changes that the virus throws at us if you like."

COG-UK – set up exactly a year ago is now the world's biggest depositary of knowledge about the virus's genetics.

Three main coronavirus variants - which were first identified in Britain, Brazil and South Africa are under particular scrutiny.

Peacock said she was most worried about the variant from South Africa.

"The reason that I'm concerned about that is that it is more transmissible, but it also has a change in the genome, a mutation, which we refer to as E484K, which is associated with reduced immunity, so our immunity is reduced against that virus. So that is one that does concern me, in particular.”

With 120 million cases of COVID-19 around the world, it’s getting hard to keep track of all the alphabet soup of variants.

Peacock's teams are now thinking in terms of "constellations of mutations".

And when it comes to the future she warns there will be more pandemics.