The Covid variant detected in South Africa poses a threat to antibody treatments, according to White House health advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci.
After discussions with health experts in South Africa, Dr. Fauci said that preliminary data suggests there is “more of a threat” the strain would break away from some of the protections antibody treatments produce.
“It could be having some impact on protection for the monoclonal antibodies and perhaps even for the vaccine. We don’t know that,” Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said during a Q&A session at Schmidt Futures’ Forum on Preparedness.
According to him, researchers at the National Institutes of Health and across the country are examining the possible impact of the strain found in South Africa.
“People ask me, ‘Are you worried about it?’ These are not the kind of things I worry about, but it’s the kind of thing that I take very seriously,” Fauci said.
Viruses are expected to mutate over time as the spikes on surfaces change, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
This mutation is also detected in the variant U.K. officials found in December, known as B.1.1.7. While both variants found in the U.K. and South Africa shared the N501Y mutation, they are different, according to the World Health Organization.
Dr. Fauci previously said the mutated Covid-19 variations negatively affect the coronavirus therapeutics. He noted that monoclonal antibodies attack a very specific component.
The Covid variant in South Africa has become the dominant strain in the Western Cape, Eastern Cape, and KwaZulu-Natal provinces.
The WHO explained that while both variants detected in the U.K. (called “VOC-202012/01,” with VOC meaning “Variant of Concern”) and South Africa have the same N501Y mutation, they remain different.
The South Africa Covid variant involves two other mutations in the spike protein which are not found in the U.K. strain. Moreover, experts believe these developments could change how vaccines fight Covid-19.
Meanwhile, several countries have already prohibited flights from South Africa as well as the U.K. due to the new variants of the virus in order to contain their spread.
The U.K. Health Secretary Matt Hancock finds the variant found in South Africa particularly worrisome. “I’m incredibly worried about the South African variant, and that’s why we took the action that we did to restrict all flights from South Africa,” he said during an interview on the BBC’s “Today” program Monday.
“This is a very, very significant problem… and it’s even more of a problem than the U.K. new variant,” he stressed.
Dr. Scott Gottlieb also believes that the South Africa variant can affect medical countermeasures since it appears to inhibit antibody drugs.
“The South Africa variant is very concerning right now because it does appear that it may obviate some of our medical countermeasures, particularly the antibody drugs,” said Dr. Gottlieb, the former FDA chief in the Trump administration, during an interview on CNBC’s “The News with Shepard Smith.”
“Right now that strain does appear to be prevalent in South America and Brazil, the two parts of the world, right now, that are in their summer, but also experiencing a very dense epidemic, and that’s concerning,” he said.