A new more contagious variant of the coronavirus could be behind a more serious second wave in South Africa b1351 could also be the first mutation to beat an existing vaccine. A small study shows the AstraZeneca vaccination only offers limited protection against mild versions of the variant. However, that’s the vaccine much of African nations was banking.

Factors driving the spread of Covid-19 in South Africa

As the developed world gathers momentum in vaccinating its populations, South Africa is fighting a coronavirus mutation. South Africa has just come out of its second wave of coronavirus infections within the last period of 2020 and the research institutes are very much concerned that this may or may not be related to the new strain of coronavirus infections that has been found within the country.

Non Compliance to Lockdown

The variant has been associated with a higher viral load in infected people making it more transmissible and leading to sharp spikes in infections South Africa recorded over 15000 coveted deaths in January 2021. Moreover, the hospitals were filled to capacity. As per Faeeza Patel, Wits University Epidimilogist, “We have had an unexpectedly strong second wave in South Africa it came earlier than we’d anticipated and it was much steeper in terms of numbers.” She explained that there were two reasons for this one was mass gatherings before the Christmas period and other occasional gatherings that the authorities hadn’t really controlled, for example at funerals, mass gatherings that boosted the emergence of the new variant.

Economic Factors

These lockdown violations have indeed increased transmission from one person to another. There have been non-compliant to traveling restrictions particularly across provinces, non-compliant to self-isolation after testing positive, as well as attending parties adherence to personal protection measures are also slipping. There are numerous people in South Africa who believes that there is no such thing as Corona and it’s a myth. Other factors include the struggling entrepreneurs that are taking risks in order to survive.

AstraZeneca Vaccine and South African Variant

Neurologist, Penny Moore in her interview with DW News explains her study on the AstraZeneca vaccine, that the main takeaway unfortunately is that the AstraZeneca vaccine which was tested in a relatively small trial in South Africa shows virtually no efficacy against the variant that was described in South Africa and for that reason, the South African government has temporarily suspended roll out of that vaccine in South Africa.

Penny states that AstraZeneca was literally expected to begin any day. however, it’s not the only vaccine and recent data from two other trials have shown some efficacy against the South African variant and so the hope is that we’ll be able to rapidly roll out other vaccines to combat covid-19 in south Africa. But this new variant has spread among 90 percent of the population including a lot of young people.

How this variant moved beyond South Africa

It is the dominant variant across South Africa that first detected in late October 2020 and since then it has swept across South Africa. Despite a fairly strict lock-down and traveling restrictions in several other countries how likely is this variant going to become the most dominant variant worldwide?

Viruses don’t respect borders as there has been a concerted effort applied to keep the South African variant out of other countries, still people do travel. Penny believes that the same set of mutations that define the south African variant have been very much detected in other variants across the world including Brazil and in the UK, and so it’s not just the south African variant it’s the more general case of the virus evolving to become familiar at dealing with our immune response.

Penny added that it’s not a case of worrying only about the South African variants it’s a case of worrying about the evolution of this virus in general.

Is the virus mutating on the same pattern globally

People have a very similar immune response to this virus and whether somebody infected with this virus in the UK or in Brazil or in South Africa or in the United States, people’s immune response sees the virus in a very similar way, resulting in the virus chooses a very similar way to escape from the immune response.

What is a Receptor-Binding Domain (RBD)

It’s an ongoing cat and mouse chase that all viruses engage in. Within response to the host, host antibodies and t-cells. The viruses are targeted by the immune system in very much the same way, so there is a certain part of the virus called the receptor-binding domain that is the main part of the virus that is seen by the immune system, and in fact, is the main target. Therefore the virus tries its best to mutate away from antibodies that target that site it happens to be targeted equivalently across the world and there’s a single or three mutations for example that enable the virus to very rapidly get away from those antibodies and so covid-19 is converging to the same way of getting away from a very conserved immune response that all humans seem to have.

What if the virus continues to mutate

Penny Moore describes: All the vaccine manufacturers are rapidly tailoring their vaccine to be able to deal with this variant and to deal with other variants that are emerging, having the same mutations. But the matter of concern is that this is a virus that’s going to continue to mutate and this is not a once-off event we’ve seen it before and we will see it again how do we deal with that on an ongoing and continuous basis? The only solution to it is how the major manufacturers tailor their vaccines and only then we’ll have to see what happens after that. This will turn into a very similar scenario to what happens with the influenza vaccines where we receive a new and slightly different vaccine every year to combat that virus and the same shall be required to be done for Coronavirus too.

Pros and Cons of Deadly vs Less Deadly Viruses

All vaccines come with pros and cons, it not just AstraZeneca other vaccines are also losing efficacy against the south African variant, and the same for the variant that is now coming out of brazil. but by upgrading all of these vaccines we will continue to see an ongoing trade-off in benefits and disadvantages for each vaccine. Scientists used to believe that pathogens always evolved to grow less deadly because it was thought a deadly disease is an ineffective disease the reasoning was that if a pathogen kills its host especially if it kills the host quickly, then it lowers its own chances of being passed on, so less deadly more transmissible variants should have an evolutionary advantage.

Virulence can also be viewed as an advantage because the sicker the host grows the more likely they are to give their pathogen to someone else. There’s kind of an evolutionary trade-off between transmissibility and virulence and there are certain pathogens for instance the tuberculosis bacterium that has been infecting humans for thousands of years yet still kill large numbers of people. For more exciting stuff please subscribe to our Facebook Page

One theory is that repeated exposure to those having coronaviruses in early childhood might be helping to prevent more severe cases of the sicknesses they could cause later in life if SARS-CoV-2 does become an endemic background illness in our societies then later generations of children will be exposed to it early at an age when it rarely makes you seriously ill and that in turn should make subsequent exposures much less dangerous or at least that’s the hope.

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