Scientists in South Africa say there is a "reasonable concern" that the new variant of Covid-19 sweeping across the country might prove to be more resistant to current vaccines being rolled out in the UK and elsewhere, and warn that it makes the need for a global roll-out of vaccines "even more critical".
"It's a theoretical concern. A reasonable concern… that the South African variant might be more resistant," Prof Shabir Madhi, who has led trials for the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine in South Africa, told the BBC.Prof Madhi was responding to comments by the UK government and scientists. He said a definitive answer would probably come in a matter of weeks, with extensive testing already under way in South Africa.
The concern arises from the fact that the virus here has mutated far more than the variant in the UK, and one of those mutations might mean it can evade attack by antibodies that would normally fight coronavirus.
Vaccines teach the body to mount an immune response - which includes creating antibodies - to fight the coronavirus, should it ever encounter it.
Antibodies are small proteins made by the immune system that stick to the surface of viruses, effectively disabling them. If that ability to connect is weakened, then the antibodies created following the introduction of a vaccine might not be as effective, BBC reported.