The World Health Organization (WHO) has scheduled a special meeting on November 26 to discuss a new coronavirus variant that has been detected in South Africa, according to officials.
Currently identified as B.1.1.529, the variant is a concern because of its high number of mutations and rapid spread among young people in Gauteng, the country's most populous province, Health Minister Joe Phaahla announced on November 25.
“We don’t know very much about this yet. What we do know is that this variant has a large number of mutations. And the concern is that when you have so many mutations, it can have an impact on how the virus behaves,” Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s technical lead on COVID-19, said in a Q&A session that was live-streamed on the organization’s social media channels.
A team of WHO is monitoring the new variant and experts on WHO’s Technical Advisory Group on Virus Evolution (TAG-VE) is to meet on November 26 to assess the new variant.“In the meeting, the experts will discuss to determine if this variant should be designated as a variant of interest or variant of concern, and if that’s the case then we will give it a name from the Greek alphabet,” Dr Kerkhove said.
Frequently Asked QuestionsView moreShowView moreHow does a vaccine work?
A vaccine works by mimicking a natural infection. A vaccine not only induces immune response to protect people from any future COVID-19 infection, but also helps quickly build herd immunity to put an end to the pandemic. Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. The good news is that SARS-CoV-2 virus has been fairly stable, which increases the viability of a vaccine.How many types of vaccines are there?
There are broadly four types of vaccine — one, a vaccine based on the whole virus (this could be either inactivated, or an attenuated [weakened] virus vaccine); two, a non-replicating viral vector vaccine that uses a benign virus as vector that carries the antigen of SARS-CoV; three, nucleic-acid vaccines that have genetic material like DNA and RNA of antigens like spike protein given to a person, helping human cells decode genetic material and produce the vaccine; and four, protein subunit vaccine wherein the recombinant proteins of SARS-COV-2 along with an adjuvant (booster) is given as a vaccine.What does it take to develop a vaccine of this kind?
Vaccine development is a long, complex process. Unlike drugs that are given to people with a diseased, vaccines are given to healthy people and also vulnerable sections such as children, pregnant women and the elderly. So rigorous tests are compulsory. History says that the fastest time it took to develop a vaccine is five years, but it usually takes double or sometimes triple that time.
— World Health Organization (WHO) (@WHO) November 25, 2021
Earlier on the day, South Africa Health Minister Phaahla said that the country has seen a dramatic rise in new infections. Over the last four or five days, there has been more of an exponential rise, he said, adding that the new variant appears to be driving the spike in cases.
After a period of relatively low transmission in which South Africa recorded just over 200 new confirmed cases per day, in the past week the daily new cases rapidly increased to more than 1,200 on November 24. On November 25 they jumped to 2,465.
The new variant has a constellation of new mutations," said Tulio de Oliveira, from the Network for Genomic Surveillance in South Africa, who has tracked the spread of the delta variant in the country.
The "very high number of mutations is a concern for predicted immune evasion and transmissibility, said de Oliveira.
South Africa, with a population of 60 million, has recorded more than 2.9 million COVID-19 cases including more than 89,000 deaths.To date, the delta variant remains by far the most infectious and has crowded out other once-worrying variants including alpha, beta and mu. According to sequences submitted by countries worldwide to the world’s biggest public database, more than 99 percent are delta.