New Variant Could Test Vaccines, Treatments

The 501Y.V2 SARS-CoV-2 variant identified in South Africa has researchers worried it could bypass protection from prior infection or vaccination, Vox reports.
 
2 small in vitro studies posted last night (preprint, not yet peer-reviewed) detail the “unexpected challenges to the immune system, even in those who have been vaccinated — a development that most scientists had not anticipated seeing for months, even years,” The New York Times explains.

In one study, monoclonal antibodies and neutralizing antibodies in serum samples from 21 of a group of 44 Covid-19 survivors failed to destroy the 501Y.V2 variant in lab tests, South African scientists report. 
 
What Does That Mean for Vaccines? Existing vaccines will still prevent serious illness, according to Michel Nussenzweig, a Rockefeller University immunologist who led the other study. But if they fail to prevent mild or asymptomatic infections, people who have been vaccinated could still transmit the virus.
 
A More Encouraging Note: “The efficacy of the vaccine is so good and so high, that we have a little bit of a cushion,” incoming US CDC director Rochelle Walensky told JAMA. And, vaccine makers are optimistic they’ll be able to adapt their vaccines quickly if they turn out to be less effective against any new variants.
 
But: “From a cost and manufacturing perspective, it would put us far, far behind,” said Anna Durbin, a vaccine researcher at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
 
Threat Level: Countries should “vaccinate 24/7 like it’s an emergency,” as Scripps Research scientist Eric Topol said on Twitter, Vox reports. “Because it is.

Related: Devi Sridhar: With Covid mutating, it's clearer than ever that we must eliminate this virus – The Guardian (commentary)

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