Dr. Anthony Fauci, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) Director and White House health advisor said on Thursday that new data has shown that the currently available COVID vaccines may be less effective at preventing the new strains of the virus.
Some nations have reported new variants of the coronavirus that are highly contagious, raising concerns among experts across the world.
The new strains have been identified in the United Kingdom, South Africa, and Brazil. They appear to be more transmissible than previous strains.
A study, published in the preprint server bioRxiv, which is yet to be peer-reviewed, has suggested that the new variant in South Africa, called 501Y.V2, can evade the antibodies provided by some COVID treatments and may reduce the efficacy of vaccines.
The study researchers from South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases wrote, “Furthermore, 501Y.V2 shows substantial or complete escape from neutralizing antibodies in COVID-19 convalescent plasma; highlight the prospect of reinfection … and may foreshadow reduced efficacy of current spike-based vaccines.”
During a White House press briefing, Dr. Fauci said even if the drugs are less effective, they will still likely provide enough protection to make the vaccines worth getting, according to CNBC.
Both COVID vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna have proven to be highly effective, creating a “cushion effect” that would allow for some dip in their effectiveness.
The NIAID director said, “We’re following very carefully the one in South Africa, which is a little bit more concerning, but nonetheless not something that we don’t think we can handle.”
He explained that a dip in the vaccines’ efficacy would be “all the more reason why we should be vaccinating as many people as you possibly can.”
“Mutations occur when the virus spreads and replicates itself, which can be suppressed if enough people are inoculated against the disease to build so-called herd immunity,” he explained.
“Bottom line: We’re paying very close attention to it,” Dr. Fauci added. “There are alternative plans if we ever have to modify the vaccine. That’s not something that is a very onerous thing, we can do that given the platforms we have.”
New CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said on Tuesday that she believes the vaccines will work against the mutated variants, but they may not be as effective as they were in clinical trials.
She told JAMA Network, “I’m really optimistic about how these variants are going to go. I could be wrong. It could be that we’ll find variants and variants may emerge … where the vaccine is less potent, but I’m still currently optimistic.” The news was published in CNBC.