With regard to Wednesday’s preliminary findings, there is growing evidence that the coronavirus variant, first identified in South Africa, avoids the neutralizing force of antibodies in convalescent plasma.
The findings were published before a peer review of the bioRxiv website by several universities in South Africa and the National Institute of Infectious Diseases (NICD) of the National Health Laboratory.
Variant 501Y.V2 involves nine mutations in the protein protein of the virus that the virus uses to infect cells. This worries scientists because recently developed vaccines and therapeutic agents have targeted proteins, raising concerns that the changes could affect the effectiveness of treatment and vaccines. Researchers believe that recently approved vaccines remain effective against the option in the UK, although research on the option, first identified in South Africa, is ongoing.
CORONAVIR IN THE UNITED STATES: COUNTRY BREAKDOWN
Earlier this week, researchers said the South African state was 50 percent more infected and had been found in more than 20 countries since late December, according to the World Health Organization. No cases of the strain have been reported in the United States, although this is potentially due to under surveillance.
Convalescent plasma with antibodies from recovered coronavirus patients is being infused into sick patients to fight infection, and treatment is now urgently authorized in the United States. Although it may provide benefits to those who fight the virus, the evidence is inconclusive of how it works or how best to administer it.
In preliminary findings published Wednesday, the researchers say the mutated strain has almost avoided, if not avoided, the protection offered by plasma treatment.
COUNTRIES REPORT COVID-1
“This line shows a complete escape from three classes of therapeutically significant monoclonal antibodies,” the findings said. “In addition, 501Y.V2 shows significant or complete escape from neutralizing antibodies in COVID-19 convalescent plasma.”
Researchers say the data underscores the risk of re-infection, “and may portend reduced efficacy of current spike-based vaccines.” The team tested convalescent plasma from patients with coronavirus against strain 501Y.V2 and 48% of the 44 samples “had no detectable neutralizing activity,” the study authors wrote.
“These data also affect the effectiveness of SARS-CoV-2 vaccines, which are based mainly on the immune responses of the spiny protein,” the paper said, calling for urgent “rapidly adaptive vaccine design platforms and the need to identify more few variable viral targets for inclusion in future immunogens. “
Separate studies Tuesday also suggest that mRNA vaccines (such as those developed by Pfizer and Moderna) may require updates to maintain effectiveness against new strains.
CAN COVID-19 VACCINES BE MIXED AND COMBINED?
Earlier, Pfizer told Fox News that the company, along with BioNTech, had chosen the mRNA platform for its now-authorized vaccine because of the flexibility provided by the technology. “This flexibility includes the ability to change the RNA sequence in the vaccine to cover new strains of the virus if one ever emerges that is not well covered by the current vaccine,” the email said.
In findings released Tuesday, a team of scientists from Rockefeller University took blood samples from 20 volunteers who received vaccines developed by Pfizer and Moderna and tested their antibodies against various viral mutations in the lab.
In some, the antibodies did not work well against the virus – the activity was up to three times less depending on the mutation, said the study’s lead author, Dr. Rockefeller, Michelle Nusenzweig.
“It’s a small difference, but it’s definitely a difference,” he said. The antibody response is “not so good” when blocking the virus.
“We don’t want people to think that the current vaccine is outdated. That’s absolutely not true,” E. John Wery, an immunology expert at the University of Pennsylvania, told the Associated Press. “There’s still immunity here … a good level of protection,” but mutations “actually reduce how well our immune response recognizes the virus.”
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Meanwhile, Pfizer and BioNTech have published a new study that provides more evidence that their COVID-19 vaccine is effective against the British version, which is considered more contagious.
The study, which was published on the bioRxiv pre-print server and is about to be peer-reviewed, analyzed blood samples from eight people in the 18-55 age group and eight people in the 56-85 age group.
The researchers found that the Pfizer vaccine did not provide “any biologically significant difference in neutralizing activity against” the original strain COVID-19 and the British variant.
Although this is good news, the researchers write: “The ongoing development of SARS-CoV-2 requires continuous monitoring of the importance of changes in the maintenance of protection against currently permitted vaccines.”
Fox News has asked Pfizer for comment on the findings of Rockefeller researchers.
The Associated Press and Fox News’ Paul Best contributed to this report.