UK virus variant ‘extremely unlikely’ to evade vaccines: Scientists

UK virus variant ‘extremely unlikely’ to evade vaccines: Scientists
A healthcare professional prepares a dose of Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine for health and social care workers at the Life Science Centre at the International Centre for Life in Newcastle upon Tyne, northeast England, on January 9, 2021. (AFP)
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Updated 10 January 2021

UK virus variant ‘extremely unlikely’ to evade vaccines: Scientists

UK virus variant ‘extremely unlikely’ to evade vaccines: Scientists
  • Findings quash fear that jabs could soon be outdated, professor says

LONDON: The UK variant of coronavirus detected worldwide is “extremely unlikely” to dodge immune responses from vaccines or previous COVID-19 infections, leading scientists have said.

US researchers found that antibodies collected from coronavirus patients seldom attacked new mutations contained in the variant. 

The findings suggest that only 0.5 percent of people are at risk of reduced protection against mutations present in the new form of the virus.

Scientists say the study has allayed fears that vaccines being distributed worldwide might be ineffective against the new variant.

Akiko Iwasaki, a professor of immunobiology at Yale University in the US, said: “The variant is unlikely to escape recognition by antibodies generated by prior infection or vaccines.”

Iwasaki, who worked with a team at US biotechnology company Serimmune, collected 579 antibodies from coronavirus patients and examined which continuous strands of virus protein they targeted.

The majority attacked the same center of the virus, meaning antibody defenses will not be weakened as new mutations are contained elsewhere in the virus.

Although the study is awaiting peer review, Iwasaki’s team found that only 0.3 percent of those studied had antibodies that were less likely to attack the defenses of the new coronavirus variant.

“I believe it is important to give the first shots to as many people as possible, given the emergence of several more contagious variants on the rise,” said Iwasaki. 

“The second dose should be given, when available, as close to the recommended original schedule as possible, but a slight delay is not expected to significantly reduce the efficacy,” she added.

“People should wear masks and stay away from crowded indoor gatherings, even after getting the vaccines.”

Danny Altmann, a professor of immunology at Imperial College London, said the study “should comfort people” who are worried that the new variants found in the UK and South Africa could be resistant to vaccines. The findings suggest that most people’s antibodies will neutralize either variant, he added.