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    Monday, January 4, 2021

    COVID-19 Vaccine's Effect on South African Strain Still Unknown, Scientist says

    Coronavirus vaccines may not work against a South African strain of the virus, experts fear. The South African variant spreads even faster than the terrifying Kent strain that has wreaked havoc across the UK in recent weeks and saw Christmas cancelled for millions of Brits.

    Sir John Bell, regius professor of medicine at Oxford University expressed doubts today about the effectiveness of available vaccines against the South African strain.

    ‘The mutations associated with the South African form are really pretty substantial changes in the structure of the protein,’ he told Times Radio.

    ‘My gut feeling is the vaccine will be still effective against the Kent strain.

    ‘I don’t know about the South African strain – there’s a big question mark about that,’ he said in a report by metro.co.uk.

    Sir John helped develop the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, which has been approved for use in the UK.

    Vaccines are thought to be effective against the UK variant VUI-202012/01, which is currently causing a huge spike in cases across the country.

    But he said the South African strain – called 501.V2 and already found in two locations in Britain – is thought to have mutated further than the Kent one which causes more concern.

    The Covid-19 vaccines protect against the disease by teaching the immune system how to fight off the pathogen.

    Sir John explained that although there was no data yet on whether the South African variant increases severity, ‘it’s increased the infectiousness, probably by increasing its ability to bind to the human cells’.

    He said the Oxford University team was currently assessing whether the current vaccines would work against the mutant strains and there was still ‘room to manoeuvre’ because the vaccines worked ‘much better than any of us thought they were going to’.

    ‘I think it’s unlikely that these mutations will turn off the effects of vaccines entirely – I think they’ll still have a residual effect,’ he said.

    Sir John added it was ‘perfectly possible’ to adjust vaccines in a matter of weeks if necessary.

    ‘It might take a month, or six weeks, to get a new vaccine, so everybody should stay calm. It’s going to be fine,’ he said.

    ‘But we’re now in a game of cat and mouse, because these are not the only two variants we’re going to see. We’re going to see lots of variants.’

    The UK first detected the Kent variant VUI-202012/01 in December after a rise of cases were linked to the strain.

    A number of countries including Australia, Italy, Iceland, Spain and the Netherlands have also reported the variant, now known as ‘mutant Covid’.

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