Fa new variant of Covid-19 (B.1.1.529) with a high number of mutations that can create problems for the immune system has been detected in Botswana, Africa. Experts believe that this strain may compromise the effectiveness of vaccines and that they may not be as effective against SARS-CoV-2.

Given this new threat, which has already put the UK on alert, what is known about this new variant?

Can it be as worrisome as Delta?

B.1.1.529 has 32 spike protein mutations, that is, twice as many Delta variant mutations. This means that the vaccines we currently have available to us may not be as effective at providing protection against the virus.

And what are these such spike proteins? It’s what viruses use to enter human cells.

Can vaccines not be as powerful with this variant?

Some of the vaccines work by training the body to recognize these spike proteins and neutralize them. Therefore, mutations in these proteins, the target of vaccines, are of potential concern.

How was the variant discovered?

In the face of a sudden increase in Covid cases in South Africa last week, suspicions began that something was up.

The first noticeable increase identified was in a cluster of cases linked to student meetings in Pretoria. A sequencing was done and this new variant was detected. 100 cases associated with B.1.1.529 will have been identified.

What does WHO say?

WHO indicates that this is one of eight variants they are monitoring and anticipates that this could actually be a risk in the future.

A working group will be meeting this Friday to assess the evolution of this variant. This meeting could lead to two decisions: either the variant is classified as a concern, placing it on the same level as Delta, or considering it a variant of less serious interest, which indicates that it may affect the transmissibility or the severity of the disease.

In the worst case, WHO will issue guidance to countries.

Read Also: WHO has been alerted to new variant in South Africa

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