New COVID-19 variant defeats plasma treatment, may reduce vaccine efficacy

22 Janvier, 2021, 03:36 | Auteur: Yves Courtet
  • Prof Salim Abdool Karim

The new Covid-19 variant identified in South Africa can evade the antibodies that attack it in treatments using blood plasma from previously recovered patients, and may reduce the efficacy of the current line of vaccines, scientists said on Wednesday.

The new Covid-19 variant has been the main driver of a second wave of Covid-19 infections in South Africa.

It is one of several new variants discovered in recent months, including others first found in England and Brazil. "In the other half, the levels of antibodies were reduced and so the risk of re-infection is not known", the National Institute For Communicable Diseases Of South Africa said in a statement.

The strain that emerged in South Africa is about 50% more transmissible than earlier versions, Salim Abdool Karim, co-chair of the Covid-19 ministerial advisory committee, said in a presentation earlier this week.

British scientists and politicians have expressed concern that vaccines now being deployed or in development could be less effective against the variant.

This is thought the South African variant escapes neutralization from antibodies as it features specific mutations on the viruses' spike protein, which the antibodies bind to.

Similar findings were also observed in samples containing convalescent plasma, which is the antibody-rich plasma of someone who has recovered from coronavirus. Recent research from the United Kingdom indicates that past infection provides 83 percent protection for five months. This suggests that they may no longer be protected from re-infection.

Director of the Rosalind Franklin Institute Professor James Naismith described the findings as "not good news but not unexpected", adding "we must not panic".

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However, there's no evidence it's more likely to cause hospitalization or death, he said.

"The vaccines do stimulate very strong responses, immunity is a sliding scale, it's not an on/off switch", he added.

They say conflicting messages on social media, especially about the side effects of the vaccine, make them skeptical about its efficacy.

"Our results suggest that the majority of vaccine responses should be effective against the B.1.1.7 variant", concluded researchers from Britain and the Netherlands in one of the studies.

The authors tested the United Kingdom strain in the laboratory with antibody-rich blood plasma from 36 patients who had recovered from either mild or severe forms of Covid-19 and found most were able to neutralise the variant.

A separate study by researchers from BioNTech and Pfizer compared the neutralising effect of plasma from 16 participants in their vaccine clinical trials against the British variant and the original virus that emerged in Wuhan, China.

They found that 501Y.V2 showed "complete escape" from monoclonal antibodies, or man-made proteins that act like human antibodies in the immune system.

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