COVID-19 vaccines offer low protection against two new variants of concern – new study

WHO warns about reinfection from new COVID variants

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The unprecedented success of the vaccine rollout in the UK has shown strong signs of breaking the momentum of the pandemic. Recent figures, however, have fanned concerns that the virus has not yet completely subdued to the jab. There is growing worry that some COVID-19 variants may be edging the race against current vaccines. Two in particular, are proving more vaccine-resistant than others, according to a new study.

A team of researchers found that two variants, B.1.1.7 (Alpha) variant and B.1.351 (Beta), showed reduced antibody levels in individuals vaccinated with the Pfizer vaccine or previously infected by the virus.

The Beta variant was first identified in South Africa, where it has dominated. It was first recorded in the UK in December, before the Delta variant.

Alpha on the other hand, which was first identified in the UK, is considered a variant of concern by the World Health Organisation, which noted it might have increased severity based on hospitalisation and fatality rates.

Co-senior author Fikadu Tafesse, assistant professor of molecular microbiology and immunity in the OHSU School of Medicine said: “We know that the virus continues to evolve for its own advantage.”

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The researchers noted that despite reduced protection against the two variants of concern, it remained a positive that the vaccine and earlier infection still mustered some residual protection.

For their investigation, researchers used authentic variants isolated from patients obtained from a national repository.

They cultivated a cell line from the original COVID-19 virus, along with two variants.

Each virus sample was mixed with blood samples collected from 50 people who had previously received the Pfizer vaccine, along with 44 people who were previously infected with the virus.

The team thereafter measured how effective the antibodies were at blocking infection from each individual strain of the virus.

The findings revealed there was a nine-fold reduction in effectiveness compared to the original COVID-19 virus.

The results also revealed a pronounced reduction in antibody effectiveness in people aged 50 and older.

The authors said the findings suggest the Pfizer vaccine continues to provide some level of protection against variants even though the overall level of neutralising antibodies is lower than against the earlier strains of COVID-19.

Co-senior author Marcel Curlin, associate professor of medicine in the OHSU School of Medicine, said he remains optimistic that widespread vaccination combined with safety measures will curb the spread of the virus.

He said: “Influenza has a much larger potential for variability than the coronavirus. Hopefully, coronaviruses will be easier to manage.”S

tudy co-author Bill Messer, assistant professor of molecular microbiology and immunology and medicine in the OHSU School of Medicine, said this heightened susceptibility of older generations to the virus was cause for concern.

He explained: “The people who surround our older and more vulnerable populations need to get vaccines and minimise exposure to the virus.

“You can’t just walk into a nursing home because they’re all vaccinated. If you’re not vaccinated, that’s still a problem.”

Pfizer CEO Albert Boula has contended that it is likely that a COVID-19 variants that are resistant to currently available vaccines will eventually emerge.

He told Fox News’ America’s Newsroom: “Every time that the variant appears in the world, our scientists are getting their hands around it. They are researching to see if this variant can escape the protection of our vaccine. We haven’t identified any yet, but we believe that it is likely that one day, one of them will emerge.

“We have built a process that within nine-five days from the day that we identify a variant as a variant of concerns we will be able to have a vaccine tailor-made against this variant.”

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