A scientist studying the new coronavirus variant identified in South Africa attempted to assuage concerns that existing COVID-19 vaccines will be rendered totally ineffective by the variant known as 501.V2.
At least 20 mutations have been identified within the 501.V2 variant, including mutations in the much-studied spike protein that researchers have determined that the virus uses to infect human cells, per Reuters.
Though these mutations “may have some effect,” said Richard Lessells, an infectious diseases expert with the KwaZulu-Natal Research Innovation and Sequencing Platform, which helped to first identify the variant in South Africa, “they are very unlikely to completely negate the effect of the vaccines.”
He noted that the vaccines are thought to “induce quite a broad immune response,” meaning such an immune response “could target different parts of the spike protein, not just one,” he told Reuters.
The variant has already been described as more infectious than the COVID-19 virus identified at the start of the pandemic. In South Africa, it has rapidly become dominant in the country’s coastal areas.
In a separate interview with the Associated Press, Lessells said it is expected that the variant will quickly become dominant inland in Johannesburg, the country’s largest city, and the surrounding Gauteng province.