We hear reports that the novel coronavirus is already mutating into new strains, but these mutations are minor, and they’re unlikely to add up to anything significant. Even identical human twins have many genetic differences between them, but we still think of them as identical. In the case of Covid-19, very few of the changes we’ve seen so far would affect a vaccine. But if such changes do accumulate over time, our vaccine programs will be able to keep up.
Think of it this way: if flu evolves with the speed of a growing vine, then coronavirus is like a cactus. If you look very closely, a cactus can appear to be changing from day to day, but it’s nothing like a vine.
We’re now inventing new vaccines from scratch and could plausibly go from nothing to a marketed vaccine in about a year. If laboratories around the world detect that this coronavirus is changing gradually, we’ll most likely have time to match new strains before they change enough to cause a new outbreak. Rest assured: a vaccine is coming, it will work, and it will continue to work for as long as humanity must contend with Covid-19. Until then, we must maintain our social distancing so that our strained health-care system can keep up with the infections that we can’t seem to prevent.