Scientists in South Africa said on November 25 that they have detected a new COVID-19 variant with multiple mutations, in an announcement that came after a recent rise in infection numbers.
“Unfortunately, we have detected a new variant which is a reason for concern in South Africa,” virologist Tulio de Oliveira said in a news conference.
The scientists, however, are yet to establish whether this new strain is more contagious than others or if it can escape the immunity provided by COVID-19 vaccines/ prior infection.
The new coronavirus variant has been named C.1.2. It was first detected in May and has now spread to most South African provinces and to seven other countries in Africa, Europe, Asia, and Oceania.
The new COVID-19 strain has many mutations associated with other variants such as increased transmissibility and reduced sensitivity to neutralising antibodies. But, they occur in a different mix and scientists are unsure how they affect the behaviour of the virus.
Frequently Asked Questions
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.
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.
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.
Laboratory tests are currently being conducted to find out if this variant can be neutralised by antibodies.
Notably, South Africa was also the first country to detect the Beta variant, one of only four SARS-CoV-2 strains that have been labelled “variant of concern” by the World Health Organization (WHO).(With inputs from agencies)