Scientists still do not know how effective vaccines will be against a new variant noted by a group in South Africa, which demonstrates mutations that may resist neutralization. To date, only a few dozen cases have been fully identified in South Africa, Botswana, Hong Kong, Belgium and Israel.
According to Tulio de Oliveira, director of the KwaZulu-Natal Research and Innovation Sequencing Platform, the new variant, B.1.1.529, has a “very unusual set of mutations”, more than 30 in the spike protein alone.
This variant bears similarities to the lambda and beta variants, which are associated with innate immune evasion, said Richard Lessells, an infectious disease specialist at the KwaZulu-Natal Research and Innovation Sequencing Platform.
“All of these things give us some concern that this variant might not only have increased transmissibility, thus spreading more efficiently, but it might also bypass parts of the immune system and the defenses we have in our immune system,” Lessells said.
The new variant has mainly been found in young adults, whose cohorts also have the lowest vaccination rates in South Africa. According to the country’s health minister, Dr. Joe Fahl, just over a quarter of people between the ages of 18 and 34 in South Africa are vaccinated.
While cases of this option are mostly concentrated in the country’s economic heart, especially in its administrative capital Pretoria, it is “only a matter of time” for the virus to spread across the country as schools close and families prepare to travel on vacation. – said Dr. Fahla.