COVID-19 Vaccines May Not Work on South African Variant, UK Scientists Fear

The coronavirus variant's altered spike protein may make it 'less susceptible' to vaccines.
Brad Bergan

The COVID-19 vaccines still undergoing rollout in the U.K. has a chance of not working on the new COVID-19 coronavirus variant officials tracked incoming from South Africa, according to an initial report from Reuters.


UK Scientists worried COVID-19 vaccine may not work on South African variant

Both South Africa and the United Kingdom have detected new and more transmissible variants of the COVID-19 coronavirus in the last month — which have created new surges in cases of the illness.

The British Health Secretary Matt Hancock said he had become very worried about the coronavirus variant identified in South Africa, reports The Straits Times.

Associate Professor in Cellular Microbiology at the University of Reading Simon Clarke confirmed the similarities between the two new variants, but emphasized how the one found in South Africa "has a number additional mutations...which are concerning," according to the Reuters report.

More spike mutations could help coronavirus 'escape from immune protection'

Clarke also said more extensive alterations or mutations involve a key part of the virus called the spike protein — which the virus uses to infect human cells, and "may make the virus less susceptible to the immune response triggered by the vaccines."

A virologist and professor at Warwick University of molecular biology also stressed how the South African variant has "multiple spike mutations."

"The accumulation of more spike mutations in the South African variant are more of a concern and could lead to some escape from immune protection," said Young.

UK agency claims 'no evidence' COVID-19 vaccines won't stop COVID-19 vaccines

BioNTech CEO Ugur Sahin, along with Regius Professor of Medicine John Bell of the University of Oxford, have claimed they are testing the vaccine on the new coronavirus variants, and say the required tweaks can be made in roughly six weeks.

Public Health England said there was no current evidence to suggest COVID-19 vaccines wouldn't protect people from the mutated variants of the virus.

Meanwhile, the richest countries in the world have already begun vaccinating entire populations to curb the spread of a disease responsible for 1.8 million deaths and an eviscerated global economy.

COVID-19 vaccine's effectiveness against South African variant in question

As of writing, there are 60 vaccine candidates in trial stages — including those already undergoing rollout from Oxford, Pfizer, BioNTech, AstraZeneca, Moderna, China's Sinopharm, and Russia's Sputnik V.

Scientists also added that both the British and South African variants are associated with a higher viral load, which means a greater concentration of virus particles in the bodies of infected patients — in addition to the possibility of increasing the rate of transmission.

Bell — who also advises the U.K. government's vaccine task force — said he thought vaccines could work on the British variant of the COVID-19 coronavirus, but stressed the existence of a "big question mark" regarding whether they would also prove effective against the South African variant.

BioNTech proceeding with tests of vaccine on new variants

CEO BioNTech Sahin told the German newspaper Spiegel during a Friday interview that their vaccine — which employs messenger RNA to "order" the human immune system to combat the virus — should provide adequate protection against the British COVID-19 coronavirus variant.

"We are testing whether our vaccine can also neutralize this variant and will soon know more," said Sahin.

The COVID-19 crisis is unprecedented in too many ways to count. While many agencies, institutions, and companies have surpassed expectations in mobilizing to reduce, and reverse the spread of the coronavirus via lockdowns, safety measures, and the vaccine candidates — it remains to be seen whether the global efforts so far are up to the task of knocking out this tragic and world-historic pandemic in 2021.

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