President Joe Biden’s vow to “shut down” the coronavirus is facing complications as data shows new variants to the virus may be more resistant to vaccines currently available.
A new study shows that two vaccines were less effective in South Africa, where a virus variant holds sway, according to the Los Angeles Times.
“Clearly, the mutants have a diminishing effect on the efficacy of the vaccines,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, according to Reuters. “We can see that we are going to be challenged.”
In South Africa, the problem is already becoming evident.
“None of the vaccines were necessarily designed against this variant,” said Shabir Madhi, a professor of vaccinology at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg and a leader of the drug trial in South Africa, during a Jan. 28 news briefing, according to the journal Nature.
“It’s a very different virus that’s infecting people in South Africa right now.”
Novavax reported that a vaccine with a 90 percent effective rating in Britain was only 49 percent effective against a variant of the virus in South Africa.
Johnson & Johnson announced that its vaccine was 72 percent effective in the U.S., but only 57 percent effective in South Africa, according to Reuters.
“From an evolutionary biology perspective, this is totally expected and anticipated,” said Dr. Michael Mina, a Harvard epidemiologist, according to the L.A. Times. “But it never feels good to be validated on something so scary.”
Researchers had been concerned that individuals who were infected once might not able to fight off the virus when a new variant of it attacked them again.
At a Nov. 19 news conference, Biden declared he would “shut down” the coronavirus without shutting down the U.S. economy, according to Business Insider. The development of the South African variant could be throwing a curveball at that vow.
It is unclear yet whether those now being vaccinated will have enough resistance to fight off this or future variants.
In the United States, the new strain has been reported in South Carolina and Maryland, according to Axios. It’s not clear if the new coronavirus strain causes a more severe form of COVID-19, Axios reported, but it does seem to spread more quickly.
A different strain of the virus has been reported spreading in the U.S. but does not have the same resistance to the vaccines, according to Reuters.
“Another highly transmissible variant first discovered in the UK and now in more than half of U.S. states has been less able to evade vaccine efficacy than its South African counterpart,” the news agency reported.
At this point, it’s the impact of the vaccine that matters.
“Whether people who have been vaccinated get infected with the variant — that’s the real proof in the pudding,” said Dr. Otto Yang, an infectious-disease researcher at UCLA, according to the L.A. Times.
Fauci said there is an answer to rising concerns.
“Vaccinating as many people as we can, as quickly as we can” can curb the virus from mutating, he said, according to Reuters.
“Viruses cannot mutate if they cannot replicate,” he said.
Not everyone agrees.
“If you think you’re going to simply vaccinate your way out of this, it’s going to be like whack-a-mole,” said Susan Butler-Wu, director of clinical microbiology at L.A. County-USC Medical Center, according to the L.A. Times.
Mina also noted that effective vaccination would need to be global.
“You can vaccinate the hell out of America,” Mina told the L.A. Times, but “until everyone is protected, we’re all still at risk.”
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