South Africa variant: Do vaccines work against SA variant? What is the concern about?

Covid variant: Expert on concerns over 'double-mutant' strain

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In London’s Lambeth and Wandsworth boroughs, 44 cases of the South Africa coronavirus variant have recently been confirmed and another 30 probable cases have been identified. Now, “the largest surge testing operation to date” is taking place, according to the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) to try to ensure no further cases of the variant are missed and allowed to spread.

Will vaccines work against this variant?

Experts say that this variant of concern – along with a few others – may be able to get around some of the protection offered by vaccines or previous Covid infection.

Current thinking is that existing vaccines should still work to stop severe illness caused by COVID-19.

However, a new study – not yet peer-reviewed – in Israel found some people who had been fully vaccinated still caught the South Africa variant.

Trials of Novavax, Janssen and the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccines in South Africa, where B.1.351 is circulating, suggest the variant can escape some immunity and may not stop infections.

But experts say vaccines should still offer protection against severe and life-threatening COVID-19 illness.

Results from Moderna suggest its shot is still effective against the South Africa variant, although the immune response may not be as strong or prolonged.

Vaccines can also be redesigned and tweaked to provide a better match in a matter of weeks or months, if necessary.

What is the concern with this variant?

The South African variant, also known as 501.V2 or B.1.351, has some significant changes to the original COVID-19 virus that experts are studying.

Some of the changes involve the virus’s spike protein, which is what vaccines are designed around and is why experts are concerned about these particular mutations.

The South African variant carries a mutation, called N501Y, that appears to make it more contagious or easy to spread.

Another mutation, called E484K, could help the virus outwit a person’s immune system and may affect how well coronavirus vaccines work.

However, there is no evidence the South Africa variant causes more serious illness for the vast majority of people who become infected.

As with the original virus, the risk is highest for people who are elderly or have significant underlying health conditions.

But there are concerns it can spread more readily and vaccines may not work quite as well against it.

Who needs to get tested?

If you live, work or travel through Wandsworth or Lambeth, you need to get tested.

Lambeth Council said: “Everyone aged 11+ should take a PCR test, even if they don’t have symptoms.”

Wandsworth Council added: “Everyone who lives or works in Wandsworth is being asked to take a COVID-19 PCR test after new cases of the South African variant were found in the borough.”

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