Antibodies From a Covid-19 Variant May Offer Cross-Protection

South African scientists are suggesting that the antibodies triggered by exposure to the country’s coronavirus variant might likely prevent infection by other variants of the virus.

If the study is successfully peer-reviewed, it offers hope that COVID-19 vaccines based on the South African variant (501Y.V2) could protect against the multiple mutations circulating in different parts of the world.

According to Alex Sigal from the African Health Research Institute, plasma from people who were recently infected with the variant was used against the first wave virus and they found that the 501Y.V2 successfully neutralised it.

“We used plasma … from people that were infected in this latest wave with the 501Y.V2 and we used it against the first-wave virus, … what we found is that it could neutralise, OK not as well as it could neutralise itself but it’s not bad at all,” he said.

Sigal said vaccines designed with the 501Y.V2 version in mind “might be cross-protective to other variants, … this gives you some idea how this problem of variants can be solved”.

Top virologist Tulio de Oliveira also said that “the 501Y.V2 can produce a high level of antibodies that can neutralise itself,”, adding that the immune response outperforms previous variants.

South Africa has recorded by far the most COVID-19 cases and deaths in Africa, with 1.5 million cases and more than 50,000 fatalities since the pandemic began.

The coronavirus mutations – some more contagious than others – have prompted vaccine manufacturers to tweak their formulas in response to their spread.

US biotechnology company Moderna last week said it will begin in mid-March a clinical trial of a version of its vaccine specific to the South Africa variant.

Meanwhile, Biologist and Catholic priest Nicanor Austriaco, of the Manila-based OCTA Research, said in an online forum that the AstraZeneca vaccine had proved ineffective against the South Africa variant, prompting a pause in the rollout of vaccine doses in South Africa and the switch to the single-shot Janssen vaccine.

Patsy Nwogu

Reporting on data-driven featured stories and investigations.

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