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COVID-19 variants a concern following new research

Cases of COVID-19 Treatment, Transmission, Spreading, Symptoms, Testing and Risks Concept. Chart with keywords and icons on white desk with stationery. Coronavirus symptoms illustration. Asymptomatic example. Image credit: tumsasedgars / 123rf COVID-19 antibodies concept. COVID-19 variants concept.
Image credit: tumsasedgars / 123rf

Research indicates that emerging COVID-19 variants may be able to escape the protection offered by antibodies and vaccines. 

The research, conducted by the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis in the U.S., studied COVID-19 variants first identified in Brazil, South Africa, and the United Kingdom. As explained in a release, the “research…indicates that [the] three new, fast-spreading variants of the virus that cause COVID-19 can evade antibodies that work against the original form of the virus that sparked the pandemic. 

“With few exceptions, whether such antibodies were produced in response to vaccination or natural infection, or were purified antibodies intended for use as drugs, the researchers found more antibody is needed to neutralize the new variants. The findings, from laboratory-based experiments and published March 4 in Nature Medicine, suggest that COVID-19 drugs and vaccines developed thus far may become less effective as the new variants become dominant, as experts say they inevitably will.”

Senior author Michael S. Diamond, MD, PhD of the Herbert S. Gasser Professor of Medicine outlined “we’re concerned that people whom we’d expect to have a protective level of antibodies because they have had COVID-19 or been vaccinated against it, might not be protected against the new variants. There’s wide variation in how much antibody a person produces in response to vaccination or natural infection. 

“Some people produce very high levels, and they would still likely be protected against the new, worrisome variants. But some people, especially older and immunocompromised people, may not make such high levels of antibodies. If the level of antibody needed for protection goes up tenfold, as our data indicate it does, they may not have enough. The concern is that the people who need protection the most are the ones least likely to have it.”

The new variant first identified in the United Kingdom is thought to be more transmissible than previous strains. As such, there are concerns in India that COVID-19 variants could add to the country’s burden of disease as it pertains to COVID-19 amidst fears over rises in cases in multiple states and union territories. 

In India, as Health Issues India reported last month, “researchers have identified more than 24,000 mutations in well in excess of 7,000 variants of COVID-19 circulating in India.” Heightened vigilance is needed to ensure the population is protected against COVID-19 variants, especially for the most vulnerable as Diamond said. 

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