Three new studies suggest that the coronavirus vaccines may prove less effective against the South African variant of the virus.
Three laboratory studies that have not been published yet found that antibodies induced by both the vaccine and previous cases of COVID-19 produced a weaker response to the South African variant.
The findings are at odds with what Dr. Anthony Fauci said Thursday. Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and Chief Medical Adviser to President Biden, told reporters that, “We’re paying very close attention to [the U.K. and South African variants], there are alternative plans if we ever have to modify the vaccines. Right now, from the reports we have, as of today, it appears that the vaccines will still be effective against them.”
One study conducted by researchers at Rockefeller University in New York and the California Institute of Technology used antibodies taken from subjects who had either received the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine. It found that the South African variant contained three mutations that reduced the effectiveness of the antibodies by a small but significant amount.
Two other studies at South Africa’s Africa Health Research Institute examined antibodies in people who had been infected with COVID-19 in a previous surge of the virus. In both studies, the antibodies either failed to neutralize the South African variant or was significantly less able to do so.
In the second study, antibodies were taken from blood samples of 44 people, and in 21 of them, the antibodies failed to stop the virus. In only three samples, did the antibodies mount a powerful attack. Those all came from patients who had severe cases of COVID-19.
Antibodies generated by vaccines are similar to those from a person who suffered from COVID-19 in that they both attack the spike protein of the coronavirus. The spike protein is what has mutated in the South African strain.
James Naismith, a professor of structural biology at the University of Oxford, said the results mean, “We should be concerned, but not panic.”
Both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines have shown efficacy of about 95%. A small reduction in their efficacy would not mean that they are now useless.