Explained: How serious is South African coronavirus variant?

B.1.351-the latest South African COVID-19 variant is different from the one found in Britain. Ever since the coronavirus has affected the world, scientists have started tracking its multiple variants that emerged the end of 2020.

According to WHO, these new strains are more dangerous and can spread rapidly in a short span of time. The organization has identified three new coronavirus strains that have originated in the UK, Brazil and South Africa.

What is the South Africa new variant?

The South African variant, also known as 20H/501Y.V2 or B.1.351 was first spotted on December 22, 2020. It emerged independently of the UK variant or B.1.1.7 and spread to almost 40 nations including the United States.

As per a recent report NYT, this variant carries a mutation ‘N501Y’ that makes it easy to spread. Another mutation called E484K helps the virus fight against the person’s immune system, thus making the vaccines less effective.

Also Read: What is B.1.1.7 Lineage? A new variant of SARS-CoV-2

How effective are COVID-19 Vaccines against South African variant?

It is difficult to give a judgement about the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines against this new strain with few tests, however, scientists have revealed that this variant may hamper the working mechanism of vaccines. For instance, tests for Pfizer Covid vaccine against N501Y and E484k were made in the lab that proved it to be less effective. Early tests of Moderna vaccine suggested it to be effective against the South African variant, leaving the immune response under skepticism. The Oxford-AstraZeneca’s vaccine offers “limited” protection against the South Africa variant, but might help in protecting severe diseases.

Is South African Coronavirus variant a concern for India?

The Government of India announced identification of four cases of South African coronavirus variant of February 17, 2021. The government is currently running the campaign against coronavirus with the help of two vaccines- Covishield Serum Institute of India and Covaxin Bharat Biotech. In a pre-print study released Bharat Biotech, it has announced the non-testing of Covaxin against South African variant.

At present, it is not much of a concern for India as the cases with new variant are low. However, with the denial of South African government against Covishield, speculations against its effectivity has risen.