JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – A new variant of COVID-19 identified in South Africa can avoid antibodies that attack it in the blood plasma treatment of previously recovered patients and may reduce the effectiveness of the current line of vaccines, scientists said on Wednesday.
Researchers are racing to determine whether the vaccines currently being distributed around the world are effective against the so-called 501I.V2 variant, identified by South African genomics experts late last year in Nelson Mandela Bay.
“This lineage shows a complete escape from three classes of therapeutically relevant monoclonal antibodies,” wrote a team of scientists from three South African universities working with the National Institute of Infectious Diseases (NICD) in a paper published in the journal BioRkiv.
“Moreover, 501I.V2 shows a significant or complete escape from neutralizing antibodies in COVID-19 convalescent plasma,” they wrote, adding that their findings highlighted the prospect of re-infection … and may suggest reduced efficacy of current spike-based vaccines. ”
The 501I.V2 variant is 50% more contagious than the previous ones, South African researchers said this week. It has already spread to at least 20 countries since it was reported to the World Health Organization at the end of December.
It is one of several new variants discovered in recent months, including those first found in England and Brazil.
This variant is the main driver of the second wave of COVID-19 infections in South Africa, which reached a new daily peak above 21,000 cases earlier this month, far above the first wave, before falling to about 12,000 per day.
Convalescent blood plasma from previous patients has not been shown to be effective when given to critically ill patients in need of intensive care for COVID-19, but has been approved as an emergency measure in several countries.
British scientists and politicians have expressed concern that vaccines currently in use or in development could be less effective against this variant.
Liszt said that it remains to be seen how effective the current vaccines are against 501I.V2, which will be determined only by large clinical trials. However, the results showed the need to create new vaccines to combat the evolutionary threat, the report said.
Tim Cocks reporting; Edited by Peter Graff