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COVID-19: Two new variants found in SA – but experts ‘not concerned’

The new variants include the B.1.1.7 strain that has become dominant in the UK. This was first picked up in the Western Cape in January 2021. Around the same time, a mutation branded as the A.23.1 strain was picked up in Nelson Mandela Bay. It’s believed that this particular form of the virus has its origins in Uganda.

Data shared by the medical experts at Bhekisisa this week has confirmed that two new variants of COVID-19 are present in South Africa. These mutations *may* have the potential to undermine vaccine efficacy – but experts are remaining calm.

Where are the new variants from?

The new variants include the B.1.1.7 strain that has become dominant in the UK. This was first picked up in the Western Cape in January 2021. Around the same time, a mutation branded as the A.23.1 strain was picked up in Nelson Mandela Bay. It’s believed that this particular form of the virus has its origins in Uganda.

About 99% of COVID-19 cases in South Africa are now thought to be caused by our 501Y.V2 variant, which emerged before Christmas and drove the second wave. A troublesome spike protein has created fears that some vaccines won’t be able to neutralise the SA variant – but experts in the scientific community aren’t too fearful of these mutations.

No need to panic

According to Bhekisisa, the immunse system is ‘smart enough’ to defend itself against new invaders, and the antibody response generated by our immune system is geared to handle ‘cross-variant versions’ of COVID-19.

“The new variants are more complicated for the body to fight off because of all the changes – but your immune system is also quite smart. It can design antibodies to defend itself against this new invader and these will be stronger than the first troops sent into the fray. It has been noted that coronavirus does, at least, follow the normal rules.”

“Because variants have a common structural change, antibodies from one variant could potentially help to also neutralise another variant. Antibodies designed to fight off the 501Y.V2 variant have the potential to also stop other variants.”

New variants and the vaccine… we’ve got good news

The research comes with the approval of leading epidemiologist, Tulio de Oliveira. He confirmed to News24 that there is ‘no reason to be concerned’ with the identification of the UK and Uganda variants in Mzansi. What is more, there is emerging evidence that every major vaccine offers blanket protection again severe disease caused by ALL VARIANTS.

Pfizer and AstraZeneca both released research figures this week, showing their jabs are ‘100% effective in preventing serious cases that cause prolonged hospitalisation or death’. Meanwhile, Novavax announced the results of their latest clinical trials, confirming that the inoculations also have the ability to neutralise the worst forms of COVID-19.

All in all, new variants will be discovered across the country: Vaccines may struggle to limit the transmissibility of some variants, but with COVID-19 now established within the global population, it has become a disease we must learn to live with. The prevention of hospital admissions and deaths will soon become the only metric that truly matters.

Our bodies possess the ability to fight-off the mutations, and those who have already been infected with the virus DO have protection against other strains – hence why our leading scientists are aware of – but not panicked by – the results of their genomic sequencing research.

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