(Citizen Free Press) — A new study suggests that someone could become infected with one of the new coronavirus variants even if they have had COVID-19 before or been vaccinated.
The variant was first detected in South Africa in October and has now been found in more than a dozen countries.
“I think we should be alarmed,” said Penny Moore, associate professor at the National Institute of Communicable Diseases in South Africa and lead author of the study.
“Based on Penny’s data, the vaccine is likely to be somewhat less effective, but we don’t know how much less effective,” said David Montefiori, a virologist at Duke University Medical Center.
Montefiori added that this is the first study that makes him seriously doubt whether a previous infection or a vaccine will protect against a new variant of the coronavirus.
“This is the first time that I have been concerned that a variant partially evades the immune response and partially evades the vaccine,” he said.
Both experts stressed that people must still receive the vaccine. It is extremely effective against other forms of the virus and they believe it will likely provide some level of protection against the new variant as well.
The study was published on a prepress server and has not been peer reviewed or published in a medical journal.
This is one of the first reports to look at the effect of the variant on antibody potency. Labs around the world are studying the problem and hope to report the results in the coming weeks.
“I am desperately concerned that in the next six to 12 weeks we will see a situation with this pandemic unlike anything we have seen to date. And that’s really a challenge that I don’t think most people have realized yet, ”said Michael Osterholm, an epidemiologist at the University of Minnesota and a member of President-elect Joe Biden’s Covid-19 Transition Advisory Board, to CNN’s “New Day” program.
‘A two-armed escape from the immune system’
In the study, Moore and his colleagues drew blood from 44 people who had had COVID-19. Almost all of their cases were confirmed to have occurred before September, before the variant was detected in South Africa.
The researchers then tested to see if their antibodies would fight the new variant.
In about half of the 44 people, their antibodies were powerless against the new variant.
“We saw a knockout,” Moore said. “It was a terrifying result.”
For the other half, the antibody response was weakened but not completely eliminated.
The analysis showed that the strongest antibody response was from those who had suffered more severe cases of Covid-19 and thus developed a stronger antibody response after their illnesses.
The culprits were mutations in two different parts of the spikes found on the coronavirus. Vaccines work by targeting those spikes.
“It was a two-arm escape from the immune system,” Moore said.
Moore stressed that these are laboratory results and studies are needed to see if people who have previously had COVID-19 are re-infected with the new variant.
The antibody assays did not measure other immune responses, such as T-cell responses, that are generated by past infections and vaccines.
What this means for the vaccine
Moore’s team is now collecting blood from people who have been vaccinated to see if their antibodies can fight the new variant.
“I think the data on people with previous infection raises all kinds of red flags for vaccines,” he said. We have to try it to find out.
Montefiori, Duke’s virologist, agrees.
“I have no reason to think that the results in people who have been vaccinated will be different than in people who had a previous infection,” he said.
For various reasons, Montefiori thinks the vaccine is likely to take a hit, but probably not as hard.
First, the two vaccines licensed for use in the US work very well, so even if the new variant fights, the reduction in the vaccine’s effectiveness probably won’t be devastating.
“We must remember that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are 95% effective, it is an extraordinary level of efficacy,” said Montefiori. “If it is reduced to 90, 80, 70% effective, it is still very, very good and is likely to have a major impact on the pandemic.”
Furthermore, while surveillance in South Africa shows that the new variant is becoming the dominant variant in the country, Montefiori notes that it has been found only in small numbers in 13 other countries.
The UK, which has a very aggressive surveillance system, has found 45 people with the new variant, according to GISAID, an independent data sharing initiative. Botswana has seen six cases; Japan has seen five; four cases have been detected in Germany; two in France, Australia, Switzerland and Finland; and one in Sweden, South Korea, Norway, Ireland and the Netherlands.
Also, getting vaccinated could trigger a stronger antibody response than infection.
On Monday, researchers at the Sheba Medical Center in Israel announced that a blood test of 102 hospital employees who had received two doses of the Pfizer vaccine showed that their mean antibody levels were higher than those found in people who had recovered. of severe covid-19. That study has not been peer-reviewed or published in paper or online.
“This is very good news,” said Moore.
While scientists determine what effect the variant could have on the vaccine, experts warn that prevention, such as wearing a mask and social distancing, is the best way to reduce rates of covid-19, that and being vaccinated. when you can.
News that matters for Citizens.