As the United Kingdom on Monday rolled out the second vaccine against the coronavirus disease (Covid-19), a leading Oxford scientist said that there was a “big question mark” around the effectiveness of vaccines on the South African variant of SARS-CoV-2. The new Covid-19 strain, named 20C/501Y.V2, has caused a rapid surge in the coronavirus cases in South Africa and two cases of the variant were also discovered in the UK on December 23.
Sir John Bell, an Oxford professor working with the UK government on its vaccine program, told Times Radio that there’s no data to suggest that South African variant is more deadly than the one originated in Britain, however, he was concerned about the mutations in the former. Bell said that a team of researchers are looking at how currently available vaccines could tackle the virus variants.
“There’s still the research to be done, but if you want my gut feeling, I think the vaccine will be effective against the Kent strain and I don’t know about the South African strain. I think there’s a big question mark about that,” the professor said.
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The South African variant was first identified in Nelson Mandela Bay in samples dating back to the beginning of October 2020, and the variant also was identified in Zambia in late December 2020. Bell opined it’s unlikely that the highly transmissible mutations will “turn off the effect of vaccines entirely.”
“We’ve got a bit of headroom because the vaccines work, I think, much better than any of us thought they would work,” he said. “We do have some room to manoeuvre. If they worked 20% less well because of a mutation we’d still have good vaccines.”
UK health secretary Matt Hancock has said that he is “incredibly worried about the South African variant” of the coronavirus, calling it “even more of a problem” than the new UK strain. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there is no evidence to suggest that the South African variant has any impact on disease severity or vaccine efficacy.