Fresh COVID Concerns Triggered by Southern African Variant

Scientists have recently been alarmed by a new Covid-19 variant with an “extremely high” number of mutations in the spike protein due to its potential to dodge antibodies that can fight the virus.

Mutations make it harder for immune cells to attack the pathogen, impacting the virus’s ability to infect cells and spread.

While the currently dominant Delta variant has 16 spike mutations, the B.1.1.529 strain, which has been described as an offshoot of an earlier variant called B.1.1, has 32 spike mutations.

Dr. Tom Peacock, a virologist at Imperial College London, suggested that the incredibly high amount of spike mutations could be of real concern since most existing COVID vaccines use the spike protein to enable the immune system to fight the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

Dr. Peacock, who posted details of the new variant on a genome-sharing website, strongly urged that this COVID variant should be very much monitored, adding at the same time that it may also turn out to be a not very transmissible “odd cluster.”

Genomic sequencing has so far spotted only 10 cases of the variant in Botswana, where the case emerged on November 11, and South Africa, where the cases emerged the days later.

There’s also one case – an individual that had recently traveled to South Africa – registered in Hong Kong.

Lab studies have found that two of B.1.1.529 spike mutations increased the infectivity of vaccines and reduced antibody recognition, Ravi Gupta, a professor of clinical microbiology at Cambridge University, told Science Media Centre (SMC).

While the immune escape is only part of the picture of what may happen, the key property of the virus, its infectiousness, remains unknown.

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