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South African coronavirus variant may reduce vaccine protection, Pfizer says

The South African variant of the coronavirus may reduce antibody protection, but more research is needed to fully determine the impact

A health care worker is shown a Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine at the government hospital in Klerksdorp, South Africa, Thursday, Feb. 18, 2021.
A health care worker is shown a Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine at the government hospital in Klerksdorp, South Africa, Thursday, Feb. 18, 2021. The South African variant of the coronavirus may reduce antibody protection, but more research is needed to fully determine the impact.
Shiraaz Mohamed, Associated Press

The South African variant of the novel coronavirus may reduce protection from the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine by two-thirds, Reuters reports.

  • It is not clear if the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is at all effective against the mutation, which was originally discovered in South Africa and became widespread there.

What happened?

Per Reuters, Pfizer released details of a new study that created an engineered virus that had the same mutations as the South Africa variant, known as B.1.351.

  • Researchers then tested the virus against blood taken from people who had received the Pfizer vaccine, according to Reuters. They found a two-thirds reduction in neutralizing antibodies compared to what normally happens with the original coronavirus used during vaccine trials.
  • It’s unclear if the two-thirds number means the virus is ineffective against the variant, though, since there isn’t a benchmark number for researchers to use for comparison, according to Reuters.
  • The researchers found the vaccine could neutralize the virus, according to Fox Business.

Similarly, the Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines appear to be effective against the variant first discovered in the United Kingdom, according to The Washington Post.

Bigger picture

Researchers continue to worry about how the South Africa variant will impact those who already received a COVID-19 vaccine, according to The Washington Post.

That said, both Pfizer and Moderna have reportedly begun creating a third shot of their vaccine, which would act as a booster shot to help protect against the variant, as I wrote about for the Deseret News.