Covid-19: First wave antibodies much less effective against 501Y.V2 - professor

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A health worker process for Covid-19 antibodies after getting blood from a patient.
A health worker process for Covid-19 antibodies after getting blood from a patient.
Valerie Macon, AFP
  • Studies of the blood of 44 people who had Covid-19 in the first wave show, that their antibodies are much less effective against 501Y.V2.
  • Studies suggest those individuals might be susceptible to re-infection.
  • The variant was first discovered in South Africa in 2020.

Studies of blood taken from 44 people who previously had Covid-19, show that their antibodies are much less effective against 501Y.V2.

This was what was said in a presentation on Thursday by Professor Penny Moore, the South African Research Chairs Initiative (Sarchi) chairperson of viral host dynamics (virology) at the University of the Witwatersrand.

"The question is whether [the antibodies of] people who were infected with the original variant...are able to recognise 501Y.V2," she said.

This will have implications on their ability to  resist reinfection, Moore said.

"The question is whether people who were infected with the original variant's... antibodies are able to recognise 501Y.V2," she said.

She was speaking during a webinar on the Covid-19 vaccine rollout and the impact of the variant.

READ | Asked and answered: Six things you need to know about the new Covid variant in South Africa

The 501Y.V2 variant was first discovered in South Africa in 2020 by a geonomics team led by the KwaZulu-Natal Research Innovation and Sequencing Platform (Krisp) at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. 

News24 earlier reported that since the end of September, they noticed the rapid spread of the new variant , which had between 10 and 20 new mutations.

ALSO READ |  Why scientists are concerned about SA's 'unusual’ new coronavirus variant

Moore said that they took samples from 44 convalescent donors who had Covid-19 during the first wave of infections in the country.

"So they had been infected with the original variant. We took all of these 44 samples and we tested their ability to neutralise the new variant, 501Y.V2," she said.

It was found that all of these 44 individuals had antibodies that were able to neutralise the original virus but 48% of them showed no activity whatsoever against 501Y.V2.

What does this suggest?

"Those 48% [at least] might be susceptible to reinfection of 501Y.V2."

Moore said that the notion that SARS-CoV-2 would be eradicated was probably not realistic.

"It may turn into a situation where we have to update our vaccines periodically," she said.

This comes after a question was raised about whether people would need to be vaccinated every year.

"I think it is very possible that we are looking at a situation where we will have to update the vaccines as new variants emerge.

"I think if we can get the number of infections down worldwide, then few of those variants will emerge – but they are always going to emerge," Moore warned.

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