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COVID-19 vaccines work well against a California variant

As the California coronavirus variant continues to spread in and out of Golden State, new research suggests that several vaccines must continue to provide effective protection against it.

The findings, published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine, suggest a good reason for Californians to continue rolling up their sleeves as the vaccination campaign raises steam across the state.

“We don’t expect this option to be a problem for vaccines – so that’s really good news,”

; said study leader David Montefiori, a virologist at Duke University.

The California variant is actually a pair of closely related satellites known as B.1.427 and B.1.429. Scientists say they most likely appeared in the state in May, after which they became the dominant strain amid the deadly holiday tide.

They represent 56% of California samples that were genetically sequenced between February 28 and March 13, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They have appeared in all states and the District of Columbia and have spread to Australia, Singapore, Israel and Denmark.

The strain in California is just one of several so-called anxiety variants tracked by the CDC. Others include B.1.1.7 from the United Kingdom, option P.1 from Brazil and option B.1.351 from South Africa. They are threatening because they are more transmissible, more virulent or more resistant to vaccines than their predecessors.

Scientists and public health officials are working to eliminate these options by vaccinating the population as soon as possible. This will not only prevent them from spreading, but will deprive them of the opportunity to acquire new mutations that could make them even more dangerous.

As these variants of the coronavirus emerged and spread far beyond their places of origin, they expressed concerns about whether the current vaccine harvest would effectively protect against them. This is because the variants have acquired genetic mutations that affect the thorn protein that the virus uses to enter and invade human cells – and which vaccines use as a target.

The fear is that mutations can alter the peak protein to such an extent that the immune system, trained to recognize an earlier version of the virus, fails to recognize a variant, leaving the vaccinated person without any biological protection.

So a team of researchers decided to try two vaccines.

They tested blood samples from people who received the COVID-19 vaccine, developed by Moderna, or a vaccine candidate from Novavax, which is not yet approved for use in the United States. They then introduced engineering versions of viral variants of these blood samples and waited to see what response they caused to the immune system.

The dominant strain in the United States is called D614G and is neutralized by blood from people who have received one of the vaccines.

The California version they tested, B.1.429, is slightly less susceptible to both Moderna and Novavax vaccines, but both shots still generate effective protection, the researchers found. This is because the body generates much higher levels of antibodies than are actually needed to neutralize the virus, Montefiori said.

And although the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has not been tested in this article, it is likely to perform as well as the Moderna vaccine, as both use similar technology, he said.

“People in Los Angeles can feel very good about getting current vaccines – that they will be just as protected from those vaccines as people living in areas where they don’t have a California option,” Montefiori said.

“It’s always nice to get that kind of result,” he added.

However, both vaccines showed a significant decrease in efficacy compared to the South African variant.

These lab results were not perfect, but they were not exactly a surprise. In clinical trials, Novavax was 89% effective in the United Kingdom, but only 49% effective in South Africa, where B.1.351 predominates.

Similarly, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which reduces the risk of moderate to severe disease by 72% when tested in the United States, was only 57% effective in South Africa. And a vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University did not work better than a placebo when tested in a South African clinical trial.

The new paper is one of several published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine on viral variants and vaccines.

A team of South African researchers who tested the blood plasma of patients infected with the South African variant said their antibodies still provided a significant level of protection against the “original” version of the coronavirus, as did the Brazilian strain.

The result: Vaccines designed to target version B.1.351 of the spiny protein could be effective against a number of options, the researchers suggest.

In another article, researchers in Israel examined antibody responses in blood samples from six health workers who were infected and later received a dose of the Pfizer vaccine. They found that after vaccination, their immune systems revived against the original virus and the British, Brazilian and South African variants, with antibody responses 114, 203, 81 and 228 times higher, respectively, just before their shots.

“This underscores the importance of vaccination even in previously infected patients, given the added benefit of the increased antibody response to the tested variants,” the researchers wrote.

The option with South Africa may raise concerns about vaccine resistance, but so far it has done little more than establish itself in the United States, Montefiori said. According to the CDC, as of Tuesday, there were 386 confirmed cases involving B.1.351, compared to 16,275 involving a variant in the UK.

It is important to keep in mind that these types of tests do not measure the full degree of protection that the vaccine provides to a real person, said Dr. Monica Gandhi, an infectious disease expert at UC San Francisco who is not involved in the new research.

For example, these tests look for antibodies, but not T cells, which are another crucial part of the immune system’s defenses.

“This is a laboratory study,” Gandhi said. “It doesn’t tell us in real life if these vaccines won’t be able to extract enough T cells, which is extremely difficult to measure to kill the virus in South Africa.”

John Moore, a virologist at Vale Cornell College of Medicine who is not involved in the new job, agreed.

There are only so many things that can be extrapolated from the immune response seen in blood samples, but a study like this provides useful clues as to “whether or not different options pose a problem for vaccines,” Moore said. “It’s a guide.”

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