(VI Consortium) As the pandemic rages on, new Covid-19 variants are emerging, with the latest strain, first reported in South Africa, being potentially more harmful than the variant that was first reported in the United Kingdom in December.
The new Covid-19 variant emerging from South Africa, named B.1.351, contains traits similar the strain first reported in the U.K., known as N501 — making the South African variant as viral as its British predecessor. But the South African strain contains another mutation, named E484K, that isn’t present in the U.K. variant.
According to the Wall Street Journal, researchers believe that the E484K mutation has changed the shape of Covid-19’s spike protein, which the virus uses to attach to and infect human cells. The E484K mutation, researches believe, makes it harder for some antibodies to neutralize the virus. If the research holds, there could be consequences on how the new strain affects people who were previously infected by the virus and have built immune responses, or those who have taken the Covid-19 vaccines currently available.
Researchers studying the latest strain say E484K’s unusually large number of mutations, especially in the spike protein, make the vaccines less effective against the strain, though the vaccines are not expected to be totally worthless. A vaccine that is weaker against the new variant means more vaccine recipients are likely to be infected with the virus a second time, in some cases mildly. And it also means more people will need to be vaccinated to help develop herd immunity and end the pandemic altogether.