Scientists unsure about vaccine efficacy on South African COVID-19 variant

By Rahul Vaimal, Associate Editor
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As nations across the globe begin to finally roll-out a COVID-19 vaccine approved for its efficacy to tackle the pandemic, the scientific community is unsure about the impact of vaccines on the newly identified mutations of the novel coronavirus. 

Both Britain and South Africa had discovered new, more infectious variants in the coronavirus in recent weeks which have driven a new wave of infections. While British authorities remain confident that the British variant can be tackled with existing COVID-19 vaccines, the same sentiment has not been shared about the South African mutation.

Researchers including Ugur Sahin, CEO of BioNTech which produced one of the early approved COVID-19 vaccines in collaboration with US-based drugmaker Pfizer and Regius Professor of Medicine at the University of Oxford, Sir John Bell have remarked that they are conducting efficacy tests on the new variants.

Reports from various quarters suggest that vaccine developers would need as much as six weeks to tweak their current medication to create a dosage that is effective against the South African variant.

The mutation in South Africa

Scientists believe that the new South African variant of coronavirus has multiple mutations in the critical “spike” protein which is used by the virus to infect human cells. The mutation has been associated with a higher viral load which means a higher concentration of virus particles enter into the patients’ bodies, presumably leading to higher levels of transmission.

Earlier, responding to the two coronavirus variants, British Health Secretary Matt Hancock shared his concern about the strand found in South Africa.

Mr. Robert Peston, a political editor at British free-to-air television network ITV reviewed Mr. Hancock’s statement stating that “According to one of the government’s scientific advisers, the reason for Matt Hancock’s ‘incredible worry’ about the South African COVID-19 variant is that they are not as confident the vaccines will be as effective against it as they are for the UK’s variant.”