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Wednesday, 12 May 2021 11.59 PM IST

Vaccines may not work on South African coronavirus variant, say UK scientists

covid-19-

LONDON: The scientists in the United Kingdom (UK) are worried that the vaccines will work not on a new variant of the coronavirus which has been lately found in South Africa. Britain and South Africa have reported new and more infectious variants in the coronavirus that have driven a surge in cases.

While UK authorities have said that the Covid-19 vaccine would be effective in the prevention of the new coronavirus variant in the country, British Health Secretary Matt Hancock said on Monday he was now very worried about the strand found in South Africa.

On December 18, South Africa announced the detection of a new variant of SARS-CoV-2 that is rapidly spreading in three provinces of the country. South Africa has named this variant 501Y.V2. The variant which was reported in South Africa has been reported from four other countries to date.

Scientists including BioNTech CEO Ugur Sahin and John Bell, Regius Professor of Medicine at the University of Oxford, have said they are testing the vaccines on the new variants and say they could make any required tweaks in around six weeks.

"According to one of the government's scientific advisers, the reason for Matt Hancock's 'incredible worry' about the South African coronavirus variant is that they are not as confident the vaccines will be as effective against it as they are for the UK's variant," Political editor Robert Peston was quoted as saying by Reuters.

Public Health England said there was currently no evidence to suggest that vaccines will not be effective against the new strain.

The world's richest countries have started vaccinating their populations to safeguard against a virus that has killed 1.8 million people and crushed the global economy.

There are currently 60 vaccine candidates in trials, including those that are already being rolled out from AstraZeneca and Oxford, Pfizer and BioNTech, Moderna, Russia's Sputnik V and China's Sinopharm.

The discovery of the new variants, however, has raised a fresh alarm. According to scientists, the new South African variant has multiple mutations in the important "spike" protein that the virus uses to infect human cells.

It has also been associated with a higher viral load, meaning a higher concentration of virus particles in patients' bodies, possibly contributing to higher levels of transmission.

Oxford's Bell, who advises the government's vaccine task force, said there was a "big question mark" as to whether the vaccines would work on the South African variant. He said it might now take a month or six weeks to get a new vaccine for the South African strain.

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TAGS: COVID 19, SOUTH AFRICAN, CORONAVIRUS VARIANT, UK SCIENTISTS, BRITAIN, SOUTH AFRICA, BIONTECH, SARS-COV-2, MATT HANCOCK, REUTERS, PUBLIC HEALTH ENGLAND, REGIUS PROFESSOR OF MEDICINE, CORONAVIRUS
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