Chairperson of the COVID-19 Ministerial Advisory Committee, Professor Salim Abdool Karim, says there is evidence that the new variant of the coronavirus in South Africa, known as 501Y.V2, is 50% more infectious as it binds more readily to human cells. However, there is no evidence that it causes a more severe COVID-19 infection.

Professor Karim was part of a panel hosted by Health Minister Zweli Mkhize on the latest regarding the new COVID-19 variant.

South Africa is experiencing a second wave of infections fuelled by the new variant.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the country has registered over 1.3 million infections and just over 37 000 COVID-19-related fatalities.

“These amino acids which have changed lead to changes in the charge and shape of the protein. The binding of the virus to the human cell had changed significantly, in particular, the virus and the spike protein now rotates about 20 degrees so that it is able to approach more deeply into the binding site so that its affinity and ability to bind into the human cell is now stronger.”

Scientists discuss the new coronavirus variant: 

Vaccination

Professor Karim says the evidence collected so far on the new variant of the coronavirus in South Africa shows that there is no need for government to halt the purchase of vaccines to combat the virus.

Research into the efficacy of the available vaccine candidates against the new variants of the virus is still ongoing.

“Should we be changing our vaccine approach? No, not at this stage! Vaccines, we see with Pfizer and Moderna at 95% efficacy are amongst the most effective vaccines and they achieve a critically important goal which is reducing clinical illness and hospitalisation, but there are many unknowns questions like are these vaccines free of longterm side effects; do they prevent asymptomatic infection? Those questions are not any reason for us to hesitate to use a vaccine that saves lives.”

Update on new COVID-19 variant: