Monday, April 15, 2024

What we know about the South African variant of Covid

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Experts say 501Y.V2 variant is more infectious and resistant to vaccines, though there are no signs that it leads to more severe disease.

The South African variant, like the new UK variant, contains a mutation known as N501Y which is believed to make the virus more contagious than older variants. The South African variant also contains other mutations of concern, including E484K and K417N. These two mutations are thought to explain why the South African variant appears to be better able to evade neutralising antibody responses by the body.

Recent results from the Novavax Covid vaccine trials support this concern: while the vaccine had 95.6% efficacy against the original coronavirus and 85.6% against the UK variant, it had an efficacy of only 60% against the South Africa variant.

Experts say there is, at present, no sign that the South African variant results in more severe disease, or different symptoms.

How widespread is the South African variant in the UK?

On 24 January, the health secretary, Matt Hancock, announced that 77 cases of the South African variant had been detected in the UK, and that these were linked to people entering the country from overseas. On Monday 105 cases of the South African variant were announced.

But Public Health England (PHE) has said that cases are no longer confined to people who have recently entered the country, with 11 cases picked up among those with no such travel history – in other words, the variant is now spreading between people in the community. PHE said the South African variant had been found in such circumstances in eight different areas of England. Read more…

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