While governments around the world are rolling out vaccines to provide immunity against the coronavirus disease Covid-19 the South African variant continues to be the Achilles heel for authorities. The variant known as B.1.351, was first detected in South Africa in samples dating back to the beginning of October 2020 and was driving the surge in infections in the country. The strain was later detected in the UK as the country reported two cases on December 23.
On February 2 the World Health Organisation (WHO) said that B.1.351 has been reported from 10 additional countries in the past week taking the total to 41 countries. Though the modes of transmission have not changed the UN health agency cautioned that the variants of concern may be more transmissible. The novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 has had several mutations during the ongoing pandemic but the South African variant has remained a concern due to the efficacy of vaccines against the strain.
US biotechnology company Moderna Inc announced that its Covid-19 vaccine will be effective against the variants identified in the UK and South Africa. But the storage requirement and effective cost have made it a less attractive choice in middle- and low-income countries.
On the other hand, AstraZeneca, which has signed multiple deals with such countries to provide the Covid-19 vaccine, has revealed that the vaccine developed in collaboration with the University of Oxford has shown limited efficacy against mild disease occurring due to the South African variant.
According to a Financial Times report, a study conducted by South Africa’s University of the Witwatersrand and Oxford University showed that the AstraZeneca vaccine had significantly reduced efficacy against the virus variant B.1.351. After the report was published AstraZeneca spokesperson responded to it, saying, In this small phase I/II trial, early data has shown limited efficacy against mild disease primarily due to the B.1.351 South African variant. The spokesperson, however, clarified that the company has not been able to properly ascertain the effect against severe disease and hospitalization since the subjects of the study were predominantly young healthy adults.