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Tag: Covid-19 Variant

Mkhize reassures SA over variant prevalent in India

Health Minister Zweli Mkhize has confirmed 59 more Covid-19 deaths, taking South Africa’s death toll to over 54 511.  Total infections since the pandemic arrived are now over 1.58 million, with 1187 infections recorded in the past 24 hours.

Mkhize also said more than s 339 655 healthcare workers had now been vaccinated under the Sisonke Protocol.

Under the Sisonke Protocol, the South African government is administering vaccines to healthcare workers in the public and private sector through an early access study.

Recently, the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority approved the use of the Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer coronavirus vaccines for emergency use.  On Sunday, more than 325 000 Pfizer vaccine doses landed at OR Tambo International Airport.

Speaking on the cargo ship from India, in which seaman died and 14 other crew members tested positive for Covid-19, Mkhize reassured South Africans that the B.1.617 variant – which is ravaging India, had yet to be detected in South Africa.

“This has been a difficult area during the Covid-19 pandemic, which can often drive exclusion, mistrust and sometimes even racist rhetoric.

“We share our people’s concerns but wish to reassure South Africans that we are a very capable nation that knows how to deal with the burden of a variant of concern.

“Our teams remain on high alert to survey, detect and contain the spread of Covid-19 in general, with heightened awareness of travelers from countries where VOC’s are dominating.

“We confirm that the B.1.617 variant, circulating widely in India, has not been detected, however, the genomics teams are working on some samples and we will need to allow the time it takes to sequence before we get an answer,” he said.

Mkhize said the B.1.351 (or 501Y.V2) variant – which was referred to as the SA variant – was the most dominant in the country.

He said one of the samples which had been taken from a traveler who came from India, was consistent with the 501Y.V2 variant.

“We remain mindful of the advise from the World Health Organisation that all variants are managed the same prevention by adhering to NPI’s, early detection, contact tracing, and testing and quarantine or isolation.

“These all form part of the regulations that govern the management of Covid-19 and it has been through adherence to these regulations that we have detected and contained Covid-19 cases at ports of entry,” said Mkhize.

Mkhize said they were aware of three air travelers who had arrived on a flight from India, via Doha. He said one passenger was in isolation at a hospital, while two others were asymptomatic and were in isolation at hotels.

Meanwhile, he said seven people who had come in contact with the members of the ship from India had tested negative for Covid-19.

“As all the members are asymptomatic, it was elected to keep all the crew on board in appropriate quarantine or isolation conditions.

“The vessel has been secured and is currently under strict security in its berth until authorities decide to move it to the outer anchorage under strict security until the containment period is successfully completed,” said Mkhize.


In another incident in Gqeberha, he said a vessel that had arrived from Kenya and four crew members had tested ill aboard.

“The following day the shipmaster reported an ill crew member, who was immediately transferred out of the ship to a healthcare facility.

“The ill crew member together with 3 other crew members who were due to depart by air to their home country was immediately subjected to PCR tests on the 26 April 2021.

“Upon testing positive for COVID-19, these crew members were subsequently isolated at paid lodgings.

“Port Health, together with Transnet National Port Authority (TNPA), instructed the shipping agency to proceed with contact tracing and testing processes, with 20 crew members on board subjected to PCR tests.

“A further ten crew members have been detected with COVID19 and are isolating for 10 days at designated facilities. The other 10 members that tested negative will remain in quarantine on the ship,” said Mkhize.

Mkhize said they were concerned to detect positive cases at ports of entry and that the government was attending to the issue as a matter of urgency.

“We have consulted the Ministerial Advisory Committee as well as the genomics team to guide us on the management of travelers at ports of entry during these challenging times.

“The government will be determining the next steps to follow and announcements will be made on the state of variants of concern in our context and what measures will be implemented to mitigate against the importation of Covid-19 in general,” said Mkhize.


Contagious Brazil Covid-19 variant evades immunity, scientists warn

A highly transmissible Covid-19 variant that emerged in Brazil and has now been found in at least 20 countries can reinfect people who previously recovered from the disease, scientists said on Tuesday.

In a study of the mutant virus’s emergence and its spread in the Amazon jungle city of Manaus, the scientists said the variant — known as P. 1 — has a “unique constellation of mutations” and had very rapidly become the dominant variant circulating there.

Out of 100 people in Manaus who had previously recovered from infection with the coronavirus, “somewhere between 25 and 61 of them are susceptible to reinfection with P. 1,” said Nuno Faria, a virus expert at Imperial College London, who co-led the research which has not yet been peer reviewed.

The scientists estimated that P. 1 was 1.4 to 2.2 times more transmissible than the initial form of the virus.

Speaking to journalists about the findings, Nuno said it was too early to say whether the variant’s ability to evade immunity from previous infections meant that vaccines also would offer reduced protection against it.

“There’s no concluding evidence really to suggest at this point that the current vaccines won’t work against P. 1,” Faria said. “I think (the vaccines) will at least protect us against disease, and possibly also against infection.”

Scientists around the world are on guard against new mutated forms of the coronavirus that could spread more easily, or be harder to fend off with existing vaccines.

The research, conducted with scientists at Brazil’s São Paulo and Britain’s Oxford universities, suggested that the P. 1 variant had probably emerged in Manaus in early November 2020.

The first infection with it was identified on December 6, Faria said. “We then looked at how rapidly P. 1 overtook other lineages, and we found that the proportion of P. 1 grew from zero to 87% in about eight weeks.”

Does the world need new Covid vaccines?

It is not yet clear whether the world needs a new set of vaccines to fight different variants of the novel coronavirus but scientists are working on new ones so there is no reason for alarm, the head of the Oxford Vaccine Group said on Tuesday.

SA has paused a planned rollout of AstraZeneca’s vaccines after data showed it gave minimal protection against mild infection among young people from the dominant variant there, stoking fears of a much longer battle with the pathogen.

AstraZeneca and Oxford University aim to produce a next generation of vaccines that will protect against variants as soon as the autumn before the northern hemisphere winter, AstraZeneca’s research chief said this month.

“There are definitely new questions about variants that we’re going to be addressing. And one of those is: do we need new vaccines?,” Andrew Pollard, Chief Investigator on the Oxford vaccine trial, told BBC radio.

“I think the jury is out on that at the moment, but all developers are preparing new vaccines so if we do need them, we’ll have them available to be able to protect people.”

Vaccines are seen as the swiftest path out of the COVID-19 crisis which has killed 2.33 million people and turned normal life upside down for billions.

Researchers from the University of Witwatersrand and the University of Oxford said in a prior-to-peer analysis that the AstraZeneca vaccine provided minimal protection against mild or moderate infection from the South African variant among young people.


Protection against moderate-severe disease, hospitalisation or death could not be assessed in the study of about 2,000 volunteers who had a median age of 31 as the target population were at such low risk, the researchers said.

“I think there’s clearly a risk of confidence in the way that people may perceive you. But as I say I don’t think that there is any reason for alarm today,” Pollard said.

“The really important question is about severe disease and we didn’t study that in SA, because that wasn’t the point of that study, we were specifically asking questions about young adults.”

The so called South African variant, known by scientists as 20I/501Y.V2 or B. 1.351, is the dominant one in SA and is circulating in 41 countries about the world including the United States.

Other major variants include the so-called UK variant, or 20I/501Y.V1, and the Brazilian variant known as P.1.

An analysis of infections by the South African variant showed there was only a 22% lower risk of developing mild-to-moderate Covid-19 if vaccinated with the AstraZeneca shot versus those given a placebo.

If vaccines do not work as effectively as hoped against new and emerging variants, the world could be facing a much longer — and more expensive — battle against the virus than previously thought.

“As long as we have enough immunity to prevent severe disease, hospitalisations and death then we’re going to be fine in the future in the pandemic,” Pollard said.

Pollard said the South African government was right to look at how it deployed the AstraZeneca vaccine because the original plan was to use it in young adults — particularly health care workers — who were not expected to get severe disease.

“It needs a relook at how best to deploy the vaccine,” Pollard said.

SA Covid-19 variant appears to evade antibody drugs, which is ‘very concerning’

Dr. Scott Gottlieb, the former head of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), has warned that the South African coronavirus variant may evade antibody drugs that treat Covid-19.

Dr. Gottlieb said that early evidence from Seattle-based Bloom Lab, which hasn’t been peer-reviewed, suggested that the South Africa variant can partially escape antibodies that fight coronavirus.

This means antibody drugs used to treat Covid-19 – or the antibodies in someone previously infected with Covid-19 – might not be effective against the new variant, known as B.1.351 or 501Y.V2, he said.

No cases of the variant, which appears to be more infectious, have been detected in the US.

Gottlieb said that it’s now a race against time to get vaccines into people’s arms before new variants become more prevalent in the US.

“We don’t know exactly because we don’t know exactly how this variant has behaved in people who have been treated with these different approaches [antibody drugs],” he said.

“Vaccines can become backstop against variants really getting a foothold here in the United States, but we need to quicken the pace of vaccination,” he said.

The contagious coronavirus variant first identified in the UK, known as B.1.1.7, has been detected in several states in the US, and has likely been circulating for several weeks.

Gottlieb: stockpile fewer vaccines to make them more available

Gottlieb did not advocate changing the vaccine schedule – for example prioritising the first dose, like the UK has done – but instead pushing out more vaccine. He said that this could be done by “taking a risk” and stockpiling 25% of the vaccine that gets manufactured, rather than 55%, to make more vaccines available.

It’s normal for viruses to mutate over time. However, the South African and UK variants are causing concern because they have an unusual number of mutations, including in the spike protein, the part of the virus that binds to human cells to infect them. It’s likely that this makes them more contagious.

The South African variant has also been associated with a higher viral load, a higher concentration of virus particles in the body, possibly contributing to higher levels of transmission, per Reuters.

Scientists are still investigating exactly how the different mutations change the virus’ behaviour, including whether the vaccines available will work against them. Experts have predicted that vaccines will still work against the UK variant, but it’s less clear for the South African variant.

Sir John Bell, professor of immunology at the University of Oxford, told Times Radio on Sunday that there’s a “big question mark” as to whether vaccines will work for the South African variant, because there’s not much information about it.

Richard Lessells, an infectious diseases expert at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, is investigating whether vaccines work against the South Africa variant. He said told the Associated Press on Monday that this is “the most pressing question facing us right now.”

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