The variant was first spotted in South Africa in October and is now found in more than a dozen countries.
“I think we should be concerned,” said Penny Moore, associate professor at the National Institute of Communicable Diseases in South Africa and senior author of the study.
David Montefiori, a virologist at Duke University Medical Center, said, “Based on Penny’s data, it is likely that the vaccine may be somewhat effective, but how much less effective we do not know.”
Montefiori said that this is the first study that gives him serious doubts about whether a prior infection or vaccine would protect against a new coronavirus variant.
“This is the first time I’m concerned about a variant partially evoking an immune response and a vaccine partially evolving,” he said.
Both experts emphasized that people should still get the vaccine. It is extremely effective against other forms of the virus and they feel that it will still give some level of protection against the new version.
The study was posted on a pre-print server and has not been peer-reviewed and published in a medical journal.
This is one of the first reports to look at the effect of variants on antibody potency. Labs around the world are seriously studying the issue and hope to report the results within the next few weeks.
“In the next six to 12 weeks I have a strong concern that we are going to see a situation with this epidemic to the contrary that we have not yet received anything. And it is really a challenge that I don’t think most people Yet feel. ” Michael Osterholm, an epidemiologist at the University of Minnesota and a member of President-elect Joe Biden’s transition Kovid-19 advisory board, told CNN’s New Day.
‘Two-armed escape from the immune system’
In the study, Moore and his colleagues took blood from 44 people who had Kovid-19. Nearly all cases were confirmed to have occurred prior to September, before they had moved to South Africa.
The researchers then looked at whether their antibodies would fight the new version.
For half of the 44 people, their antibodies were powerless against the new variant.
“We saw a knockout,” Moore said. “It was a scary result.”
For the other half, the antibody response was weakened, but not completely knocked out.
The analysis revealed that the strongest antibody response was from those who had encountered more severe cases of Kovid-19, and therefore had developed a stronger antibody response after their illnesses.
The culprits were mutations in two different parts of the spike that sit atop the coronovirus. Vaccines work by targeting those spikes.
“It was a two-armed escape from the immune system,” Moore said.
Moore emphasized that these are the results in the laboratory, and studies need to be done to see if people with Kovid-19 are already re-infected with the new version.
Antibody assays did not measure other immune responses, such as T-cell responses, which are generated by previous infections and vaccines.
What does this mean for vaccines
Moore’s team is now collecting blood from people who have been vaccinated to see if their antibodies can fight the new version.
“I think data from people with pre-infection raise all kinds of red flags for vaccines,” she said. “We’ll have to test to find out.”
Montefiori, Duke virologist, agrees.
“I have no reason to think that the results with people who have been vaccinated will be any different than those with pre-infection,” he said.
For a variety of reasons, Montefiori thinks the vaccine will likely take a hit – but perhaps not a huge one.
First, the two vaccines authorized for use in the US work very well, so even if the new version puts a fight, the reduction in vaccine efficacy would not be catastrophic.
“We have to remember, Pfizer and Modern Vaccines are 95% effective – this is an exceptional level of efficacy,” Montefiori said. “If it is reduced to 90, 80, 70%, it is still very, very good and has a major impact on the epidemic.”
In addition, surveillance in South Africa suggests that the new variant is becoming the dominant variant in the country, with Montefiori stating that it has only been found in small numbers in 13 other countries.
In addition, infection with the vaccine may lead to a stronger immune response.
On Monday, researchers at the Sheba Medical Center in Israel announced that an analysis of the blood of 102 hospital staff had yielded two doses of the Pfizer vaccine, implying that antibody levels were higher than those with severe Kovid-19. Were recovered from. This study has not been peer reviewed, published or posted online.
“That’s great news,” Moore said.
While scientists find out what effect the variant may have on the vaccine, experts recommend that prevention, such as wearing masks and social disturbances, is the best course to bring Kovid-19 rates down – and when you get the vaccine can do .