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'Vaccine Less Effective': WHO Chief Scientist Raises Concern Over South African Variant

Dr Swaminathan said that Covid vaccine is now being tested in labs in the UK and South Africa to check whether it can neutralise the South African strain


On Friday, World Health Organisation (WHO) chief scientist Dr Soumya Swaminathan raised concern over the South African variant of Coronavirus. She said that the preliminary experiments have shown that monoclonal antibodies that were effective against SARS-CoV2 are less effective against the South African variant. 

In South Africa a new variant of Coronavirus is driving the second wave of infections and concerns are being raised over its response to the Covid-19 vaccines. South Africa named the variant 501Y.V2 because of the N501Y mutation they found in the spike protein that the virus uses to gain entry into cells within the body. The similar mutation was also found in the new strain that the UK notified WHO in December.

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Dr Swaminathan said that COVID-19 vaccine is now being tested in labs in the UK and South Africa to check whether it can neutralise the South African strain. 

''On January 12, to outline important research questions related to viral variants, WHO is bringing virologists and laboratory experts, our virus evolution working group and developers of vaccines together,'' she added.

According to the chief scientist, when there is increased transmission in the population all viruses mutate and variants are bound to arise. In the coming weeks, more data from experiments will inform whether these mutations will have any impact on the efficacy of vaccines and monoclonal antibodies.

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Dr Swaminathan also praised the country’s focus on vaccination and immunizing the population against Covid-19. She said the country needs to maintain vigilance till mass vaccination raises the levels of population immunity. On Friday, India reported a total of 82 persons with new UK mutant strain, however, no reports on the South African mutant found in the country at present.

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COVID-19 variant in South Africa?

According to researchers, a mutation at this point meant that antibodies’ capability of blocking the virus from entering cells fell more than 10-fold. Even though the South African experts are still looking into the details of the new COVID-19 variant, the health minister had said last week that the particular strain had dominated the results of the infections, especially in the last two months. Calling it a shift in the epidemiological landscape, doctors have reportedly noted that more younger patients were impacted with co-morbidities and developed severe forms of the highly-infectious disease which is sometimes deadly.

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