More Vaccine-Resistant, Contagious, and Lethal Coronavirus Mutant: How Bad is the Situation?

After looking at the data, the situation isn’t good, but it’s not catastrophic (yet).

Shin Jie Yong, MSc (Res)
Microbial Instincts
8 min readJan 29, 2021

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If you have been keeping up with coronavirus development, you’d probably know that things are getting worse. Last week, it was announced that Covid-19 mRNA vaccines are less effective against the U.K. and South Africa SARS-CoV-2 mutants. Preliminary data from the U.K. also shows that the mutant is 30–40% deadlier and 30–70% more transmissible. This article will look at what these numbers really mean in context.

The mutant in the U.K. is called B.1.1.7, N501Y, or 501Y.V1. The one in South Africa is B.1.351, E484K, or 501Y.V2. The one in Brazil is B1.1.28 or 501.V3. The one in Southern California is CAL.20C. Since they go by various names, I’ll just refer them by the country it was first discovered in. Only the U.K. and South Africa mutants will be discussed herein since there’s not much data about the others.

Less effective vaccines?

Thus far, at least three studies — released as preprints from well-respected researchers and institutions — have investigated how the current mRNA vaccines fare against the mutants.

  1. In one study, researchers at Rockefeller University, New York, took blood samples from persons vaccinated with either the Moderna’s or Pfizer-BioNTech mRNA vaccines. Although these persons had high levels of antibodies against the original SARS-CoV-2, the antibodies were up to 3-fold less efficient at neutralizing the South African and U.K. mutants.
  2. Another preprint from Pfizer-BioNTech did similar research in testing the antibody efficacy of vaccinated persons against the U.K. mutant. Results showed that the mRNA-induced antibodies were equally effective at neutralizing the original SARS-CoV-2 and U.K. mutant.
  3. A preprint from Moderna and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases also performed similar experiments. Antibodies sampled from vaccinated persons’ blood were highly potent at neutralizing the original SARS-CoV-2 and U.K. mutant. But, “A six-fold reduction in neutralizing titers was observed with the B.1.351 [South African] variant…

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Shin Jie Yong, MSc (Res)
Microbial Instincts

Named Standford's world top 1% scientists | Independent science writer and researcher | Medium boost program's nominator | Powerlifter with national records