Researchers in South Africa are examining whether COVID-19 vaccines are effective against a SARS-CoV-2 strain recently identified there, according to the Associated Press.
The strain, dubbed 501Y.V2, was identified last month and is marked by about 20 genetic mutations, including a number affecting the gene encoding the spike protein that the virus uses to enter human cells, Reuters adds. It notes that these mutations have raised concerns about whether vaccines targeting spike protein will be effective against this strain.
"We are urgently doing experiments in the laboratory to test the variant," Richard Lessells from the KwaZulu-Natal Research Innovation and Sequencing Platform tells the AP.
Lessells tells Reuters that the vaccines are likely to still be protective against this strain, as they elicit a broad response against the spike protein. "That's why we think that although these mutations may have some effect, they are very unlikely to completely negate the effect of the vaccines," he says, noting that preliminary results may be available by the end of the week.
Reuters notes the SARS-CoV-2 strain recently identified in the UK, B.1.1.7, also harbors genetic alterations affecting the spike protein, but not the one that raised the most concerns about the 501Y.V2 strain.