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Antibodies from South African coronavirus variant may offer cross-protection, researchers find

Antibodies from South African coronavirus variant may offer cross-protection, researchers find
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South African scientists said Wednesday that antibodies from the coronavirus variant first found in the country may offer protection against additional strains of the virus. 

Reuters reported that Alex Sigal of the Africa Health Research Institute said at a news conference that based on studies of patients who were infected with the 501Y.V2 variant of the virus that causes COVID-19, vaccines designed specifically for the strain “might be cross-protective to other variants.” 

Penny Moore, a professor at South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases, said that the antibody protection from the South African variant was only reduced threefold against the original virus, compared to a ninefold reduction in the protection provided by the original virus antibodies against 501Y.V2.

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“It’s not that the antibodies that are triggered by 501Y.V2 are somehow magical, there is a drop-off … but unlike the antibodies triggered by the original variant they seem to somehow have a little bit more breadth," Moore said.

While millions of vaccine doses have already been distributed globally, the rise of new variants provide an obstacle to eliminating the virus that has already infected nearly 115 million people and killed at least 2.5 million globally, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University

Both Pfizer and Moderna, two of the three drug manufacturers whose coronavirus vaccines are approved for emergency use in the U.S. by the Food and Drug Administration, announced last week that they had begun testing booster shots of their vaccine to protect against South African variants. 

Moderna said at the time that it had already shipped doses of its booster to the National Institutes of Health for a phase one clinical trial that will be led and funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

The variant, known as B.1.351, has been found in several states across the U.S. 

Pfizer, along with its partner BioNTech, said last week that it was in “ongoing discussions” with regulators on the potential need to study a third shot of their COVID-19 vaccine that could better fight against the variant first identified in South Africa. 

With new variants and mutations of the virus spreading rapidly, South Africa has been hit especially hard by the pandemic, recording the most cases and deaths of any country in Africa. 

As of Wednesday, there have been approximately 1.5 million coronavirus infections in the country, with more than 50,000 dead, according to Johns Hopkins.