South African Covid-19 variant reduces vaccine protections


In the findings published in the New England Journal of Medicine, research proves that the South African Covid-19 variant reduces protection offered by vaccines.

The laboratory study reveals a reduced level of efficacy on the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine when exposed to the South African variant concluding that the new variant reduces antibody protections offered on the vaccine by two-thirds.

It remains unclear if the shot delivered will prove effective against the mutations. So far there is no evidence on human trials whether a new variant reduces protections. 

Also read: AstraZeneca vaccine rollout halted over low effectiveness toward South African variant

Pfizer-BioNTech claims to continuously invest and engaging regulators on the possible creation of an updated version of the mRNA vaccine. Alternatively, they will invest in a booster shot. The study was done by scientists who medically engineered a virus with similar spike proteins like that of the B.1.351 strain. 

Engineers tested the engineered virus on blood samples taken from people who were already vaccinated only for two-thirds to experience a reduction in their level of neutralizing antibodies. The findings were published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

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Presently there are no benchmark antibodies to determine the level of immunity offering protection against the virus. The two-thirds reduction will make the vaccine virtually ineffective against the variant spreading globally. UTMB professor Pei-Yong Shi, the study’s co-author, believes Pfizer-BioNTech protects against the variant regardless.

In clinical trials, both Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna Inc vaccines deliver some form of protection from a similar shot after a single dose. Response from antibodies is much lower than the reduced levels from the South African variant.

This means that despite the reduced efficacy, the vaccine would help safeguard against severe death and disease. Experts point this out as the most important factor when preventing healthcare systems from being overrun. 

Also read: South Africa secures 1.5 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine

More effort will be invested in determining if it helps in cases of severe disease or death. This is key when looking at stretched healthcare systems on the verge of being overrun.

A lot more research accompanied by clinical trials and the development of protein correlates is required to determine how protective the level of antibodies is. Both companies are currently testing whether their vaccine is effective against the Brazilian variant. Moderna also published in NEJM similar data on the South African variant.

According to Moderna its efficacy against the South African variant is yet to be determined.

Also read: Covid-19 cases in South Africa hit 1 million

In other news, the third coronavirus outbreak wave has swept Africa resulting in over 100,000 deaths. This dwarfs the numbers reported in other continents but keeps on rising as the second wave overwhelms hospitals. North America has so far experienced over half a million deaths and Europe is closing in on a million having passed the 900,000 number.

The concentration of deaths across Africa is concentrated around South Africa at the Southern tip.  A second wave caused by the highly contagious new variant devastated the country’s healthcare system. Other neighboring countries ravaged by the deadly 501Y V2 variant are Malawi, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique.