Friday, November 26, 2021
The configuration of the variant has given rise to concerns among experts that it will spread faster and evade vaccines more effectively than earlier strains. But how it really behaves in the real world isn’t yet clear.
Four people in Botswana with the variant were vaccinated—ahead of planned travel. However, all variants show some ability to evade vaccines. So researchers are now racing to discover whether a disproportionate number of vaccinated people are being infected by the new version and whether people infected with it are getting more or less sick than patients infected with other strains. It is still too early to say whether symptoms associated with the new variant are different.
At the same time, scientists are busy building replicas of the new variant in the lab, which will allow them to test how it reacts to antibodies triggered by Covid-19 vaccines or a previous infection.
Already, the variant is driving an exponential increase in infections in South Africa, from less than 300 new daily cases just over two weeks ago to more than 2,400 new cases on Thursday. That, scientists say, suggests that it may be more contagious than the Delta variant that was until recently dominant in the country.
“We expect unfortunately to see a very fast increase of the cases,” said Tulio de Oliveira, who heads the Center for Epidemic Response & Innovation at South Africa’s Stellenbosch University.