A variant that is more contagious, but perhaps better immunizing.
A preliminary study carried out in South Africa tends to show that people infected with the South African variant of the new coronavirus have better immunity to other mutations in the virus, experts announced on Wednesday.
This study was carried out by the South African scientific team that discovered the South African variant 501Y.V2 but has not yet been submitted for evaluation by the scientific community and involves only a very small number of subjects.
However, it raises hopes that a vaccine based on this variant could protect against future mutations in the coronavirus.
"Good neutralizing activity" of the variant
According to the data of this study, presented by a group of scientists gathered in a Genomic Surveillance Network - South Africa (NGS-SA), only 4% of the 55 subjects already infected with 501Y.V2 could not overcome contamination from the original strain of the new coronavirus.
Identified at the end of 2020, the South African variant has become dominant in the country, officially the most affected by Covid-19 on the continent, fueling a second wave of contamination and delaying the start of the vaccination campaign in February.
South African scientists said on Wednesday that plasma from people infected with the variant had "good neutralizing activity" against "first wave" viruses and potentially other disturbing new variants.
"501Y.V2 can generate a high level of antibody capable of neutralizing it," virologist Tulio de Oliveira explained in a video conference, reporting an immune response that outstrips that of other variants.
"Good news for everyone"
During this conference, the South African Minister of Health, Zweli Mkhize, described the discovery as "good news for everyone", considering that it represented a hope of acceleration towards the control of the pandemic.
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According to this study, the antibodies generated by the South African variant were also found to be 100% effective against the Brazilian variant, in a however very small sample of seven patients.
"The results (of this study) basically tell us that we have good hopes of success if we make a vaccine" based on the South African variant, said Salim Abdool Karim, epidemiologist and senior adviser to the South African government.
Covid-19: Guadeloupe, New Yorkers, what do we know about these new variants?
Mutations in the new coronavirus - some of which seem more contagious - have dampened enthusiasm around vaccination campaigns, with some vaccines appearing to be less effective against them.
Manufacturers have recently modified their vaccines slightly to accommodate mutations.
The American laboratory Moderna recently announced that it would begin a clinical trial of a version of its vaccine specially adapted to the South African variant in mid-March.