Scientists fear ‘escape mutant’ in South African coronavirus variant may decrease vaccine effectiveness

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Scientists have identified an “escape mutant” that could decrease the effectiveness of Covid-19 vaccines.

The mutation – called E484K – was found in a variant of the coronavirus first spotted in South Africa two months ago. This variant has now spread to 12 other countries.

Penny Moore, associate professor at the National Institute of Communicable Diseases in South Africa, called the mutation “alarming”.

“We are concerned that this mutation may have an impact, and what we don’t know is the extent of the impact,” she said.

E484K is called an “escape mutant” because it has been shown that it may be able to escape some of the antibodies produced by the vaccine.

“I am worried,” said Alex Sigal, a virologist at the Africa Health Research Institute.

Sigal, Moore and other scientists studying the E484K mutation have yet to complete their lab work to see if the vaccine is less effective against this new variant.

Based on what they have seen so far, they say they strongly doubt E484K will make coronavirus vaccines unnecessary. On the contrary, they believe that it is possible that the mutation – alone or in combination with other mutations – could decrease the effectiveness of the vaccine against the variant.

They are also concerned that E484K may be an indication that the new coronavirus is showing its ability to change before our eyes. If this mutation were to occur within a few months, other problematic mutations could follow.

“This virus may be taking the first steps on a fairly long road to vaccine resistance,” said Andrew Ward, structural virologist at Scripps Research in La Jolla, Calif.
“This is the start of a long journey,” said Moore. “That’s what really rocked me about it. It’s a sobering wake-up call.

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