New coronavirus variant discovered in South African lab

News outlets are reporting on a variant of the coronavirus that has been discovered in a South African lab. The strain was discovered in October in South Africa but has since been found in more than ten countries around the globe. In a study published by associate professor Penny Moore from the National Institute for Communicable Diseases in South Africa, evidence has been found that suggests the new variant is able to infect those who have already had the virus, or even been vaccinated. “I think we should be alarmed,” Moore told CNN. While the study has not yet been peer-reviewed, experts have warned caution based on its findings.

Experts have warned that this study has shrewd doubt on whether or not the vaccine will be able to provide the widespread immunity the world has been eagerly awaiting. David Montefiori, a virologist at Duke University Medical Center, told CNN that he is concerned that this variant could potentially evade immune response and vaccine efforts. The report is one of the first to analyze the variant’s effect on antibody potency, and will be the basis for many tests and studies in the coming weeks.

The study was conducted by sampling blood from 44 people who had contracted COVID-19 before the variant was reported to have been going around. The new variant was then tested on the antibodies of the samples taken and about half of the tests resulted in the variant successfully infecting. “We saw a knockout,” Moore told CNN. “It was a scary result.” Moore did emphasize that results reached this way in a lab setting are not 100% accurate to how the virus will affect people who had previously contracted the virus. More studies need to be done in order to see how dangerous this variant could be. “The antibody assays did not measure other immune responses, such as T-cell responses, that are generated by previous infections and vaccines,” said Moore.

The CDC has posted information regarding the variants, such as the ones found in Brazil and the UK (B. 1. 1.7 and P. 1, respectively). The website states that, “viruses constantly change through mutation, and new variants of a virus are expected to occur over time. Sometimes new variants emerge and disappear. Other times, new variants emerge and persist.” Additionally, the site features a map in which you can track the different known variants and provides information about what we do and do not know about them. The CDC writes that these variants seem to spread quicker and more easily, but that they do not have any evidence at this time that the variants are more deadly. “However, an increase in the number of cases will put more strain on health care resources, lead to more hospitalizations, and potentially more deaths,” according to the CDC. The center emphasized that social distancing and rigorous mask usage is still encouraged in order to keep as many people safe as possible.

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