New COVID-19 variant in South Africa as massive surge in Europe infections

pharmafile | November 26, 2021 | News story | Medical Communications  

A new variant of coronavirus found in South Africa is feared to be more transmissible than other strains, and poses a potential threat to current vaccines. Nearly 100 cases related to the B.1.1.529 strain have been confirmed, though there are fears that the true number of virus cases are higher.

The UKHSA has stated that the strain is the “worst one we’ve seen so far”, with a spike protein which is “dramatically” different to the originally coronavirus strain. Spike proteins are the proteins used by viruses to enter human cells. Some vaccines work by training the body to recognise spike proteins. Meanwhile, some treatments for COVID-19 work by interfering with these proteins. Mutations could therefore prove problematic.

The variant has 30 mutations, twice as many as the Delta variant. The potential risk of these mutations evading the immune response generated by prior vaccination and infection is high. In response, Britain has banned all travel from the country and five other African nations due to growing concerns about the new variant. WHO stated it is “closely monitoring” the reported variant.

Meanwhile, several countries in the EU have implemented lockdowns and curbs in view of rising infection cases, as Europe accounts for up two thirds of new infections across the globe. Austria has implemented a fourth national lockdown, days after announcing mandatory vaccination implemented from February 2022. Germany, in response to a fourth wave, is considering further restrictions. Currently, only the vaccinated are allowed to restaurants and hotels.

Experts believe the South African strain could reduce vaccine effectiveness to as little as 30%. A few cases of the strain have also been reported in Israel, Botswana, and Hong Kong. Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s technical lead on COVID-19, shared at a virtual press meeting: “The concern is that when you have so many mutations, it could have an impact on how the virus behaves

“It will take a few weeks for us to understand what impact this variant has on any potential vaccines”.

Ana Ovey

Related Content

No items found

Latest content