Scientists are raising alarm about the B.1.1.529 COVID-19 variant, first located in Botswana, due to fears that the high number of mutations in the variant could make it stronger against human immune systems.
The variant has 32 mutations in its spike protein, which could affect the virus’ ability to mutate and spread as well as the body’s immune response to it. Only 10 cases of the variant have been positively sequenced across three countries, according to The Guardian, but the mutations are still cause for concern, according to some experts.
The first case of B.1.1.529 was identified in Botswana on Nov. 11, and a case was identified in South Africa three days later. A number of countries, including the U.K., Japan, Singapore and the Netherlands have already banned flights from South Africa out of caution. (RELATED: Stock Market Nosedives After Reports Of New COVID-19 Variant)
Dr. Tom Peacock, a virologist at Imperial College London, cautioned that while the variant may not be widespread yet, the spike protein mutations are highly concerning.
“Worth emphasising this is at super low numbers right now in a region of Africa that is fairly well sampled, however it very very much should be monitored due to that horrific spike profile,” he tweeted.
Worth emphasising this is at super low numbers right now in a region of Africa that is fairly well sampled, however it very very much should be monitored due to that horrific spike profile (would take a guess that this would be worse antigenically than nearly anything else about)
— Tom Peacock (@PeacockFlu) November 23, 2021
Dr. Jesse Bloom, principal investigator at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, said that while this variant isn’t likely to be totally vaccine resistant, it may hit both vaccine-induced and natural immunity harder than prior variants.
But I’d expect the Nu variant to cause more of a hit on vaccine- and infection-elicited antibody neutralization than anything we’ve seen so far. (6/n)
— Bloom Lab (@jbloom_lab) November 25, 2021
NU VARIANT (B.1.1.529) in South Africa & why unlikely to evade vaccine-induced immunity. So, what is this variant? Number 1, we don’t know yet if it is more transmissible. Still being studied & described. 59 cases uploaded to databasehttps://t.co/4i67ZKWa62
— Monica Gandhi MD, MPH (@MonicaGandhi9) November 26, 2021
However, Dr. Monica Gandhi of University of California, San Francisco said it’s “unlikely” that the variant will be evasive to currently available vaccines. Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Joe Biden’s top medical adviser, said more data is needed before the U.S. considers following the lead of others and banning flights from countries where the variant is breaking out.