Scientists in South Africa are urgently testing to see if the vaccines for Covid-19 will be effective against the country’s variant virus.
“This is the most pressing question facing us right now,” said Dr Richard Lessells, an infectious diseases expert who is working on the country’s genomic studies of the variant.
“We are urgently doing experiments in the laboratory to test the variant,” Lessells told the Associated Press on Monday (4 January). This is being done against the blood of people with antibodies and against the blood of people who have received vaccines.
The tests, called neutralising assays, will help determine the reliability of vaccines against the variant, he said.
In an interview on Monday, the UK’s Health and Social Care secretary Matt Hancock said that he had been in discussion with Health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize about the new variant over the Christmas period.
“I’m incredibly worried about the South African variant. That’s why we took the action that we did to restrict all flights from South Africa, and movement from South Africa, and to insist that anybody who’s been to South Africa self isolates.
“This is a very significant problem. In fact, I spoke to my South African opposite number over Christmas, and one of the reasons they know they’ve got a problem is because, like us, they have an excellent genomic scientific capability, to be able to study the details of the virus. And it is even more of a problem than the UK new variant.”
Scientists are also not fully confident that Covid-19 vaccines will work on a new variant of the coronavirus found in South Africa, ITV’s political editor said on Monday, citing an unidentified scientific adviser to the British government.
“According to one of the government’s scientific advisers, the reason for Matt Hancock’s ‘incredible worry’ about the South African Covid-19 variant is that they are not as confident the vaccines will be as effective against it as they are for the UK’s variant,” ITV political editor Robert Peston said.
Hancock said that the second variant will make life ‘much harder’ as it makes it more difficult to control the spread of the coronavirus due to the variant passing on much faster.