Local scientists have discovered those who have been infected by the new South African Covid-19 variant in the second wave are now immune to other variants of the virus.
The 501Y.V2 variant was able to neutralise itself from other variants, including the variant which circulated in the first wave.
This positive development was announced by scientists at a briefing hosted by Higher Education, Science and Innovation Minister Blade Nzimande and Health Minister Zweli Mkhize.
Director of the KwaZulu-Natal Research Innovation and Sequencing Platform (KRISP) Professor Tulio de Olivieria said their research into the 501Y.V2 variant found it had good neutralising activity against itself and also other variants of concern.
“What it means is people who have been infected with 501Y.V2 will be immune to other variants and lineages” he said.
Even better news is that the ground-breaking findings could lead to the use of the new strain to develop vaccines with a good immune response, chairperson of the Ministerial Advisory Council Professor Salim Abdool Karim said.
“If a vaccine is built on this new variant strain capability, epitopes, we can expect there is a good chance the vaccine will illicit good immune responses that will protect people from getting 501Y.V2 and various other variants. This finding is basically telling us we have a good prospect of success if we make a new vaccine based on it.”
Not yet clear how long protection lasts
Like other viruses, Covid-19 continues to duplicate itself and mutate and it is not known for how long the immunity lasts.
“We have known for a long time that people who are infected develop a good antibody response. We don’t know how long it lasts and how much antibody is enough to protect you from reinfection,” Karim said.
“We strongly encourage people and those infected to still pursue the same routes of protection for those who have not been infected. Continue washing your hands, sanitising and wearing your mask because there are still many things we don’t understand.”
Immunity due to the new variant did not mean those protected should avoid the vaccine, De Olivieria said.
“In no way are we saying people should not be vaccinated but everyone should increase vaccination to avoid another wave.”