Research has found that people who contracted Covid-19 in the second wave of the pandemic are less likely to contract it again and their immune systems have developed antibodies which are able to fight against the new variant as well as earlier ones.
This finding followed a collaboration between the government and local scientists from the KwaZulu-Natal Research Informatics and Sequencing Programme (KRISP).
KRISP is the first in the world to uncover the findings, showing that the 501Y.V2 variant has a number of mutations on its spike protein, which increases the efficacy of the virus to infect humans and potentially posing problems of vaccine escape.
Due to their initial discovery, the Department of Science and Innovation, under Minister Blade Nzimande, allocated KRISP R25 million over the next 12 months to complete the sequencing of 10 000 Sars-CoV-2 genomes in South Africa and the rest of the African continent.
This was revealed on Wednesday by South African scientists and epidemiologists following their year-long study on the efficacy of the first wave of the Covid-19 virus and the second variant known as 501Y.V2, which was initially discovered in the Western and Eastern Cape in January this year.
The same variant was also discovered in 48 countries across the world, including in Europe.
During a virtual meeting hosted by Nzimande and Health Minister Zweli Mkhize, the scientists and epidemiologists expressed hope that the country was on course to fight the new variant.
Prof Túlio de Oliveira reiterated the warning that the new variant should not be called a South African variant saying its effects were similar to other countries.
Detailing their findings, one of the experts, Dr Koleka Mlisana, said they collaborated with various universities in the country, the National Institute of Communicable Disease (NICD), the National Health Laboratory Services to study samples collected from more than 3 324 people from all nine provinces.
Mlisana said the samples were taken to various laboratories and to test whether these vaccines were able to deal with the efficacy of the first wave of the variant and the new.
According to Mlisana, their studies have proved positive but not 100%. According to the scientists, vaccines accuracy rate now stands at 85% but more studies were conducted to add more potency to vaccines.
Supporting their findings, Professor Penny Moore of Wits said: “These vaccines are providing people infected with the virus with antibodies to fight it. We do not know how long these antibodies will last in humans. We will be conducting more studies.”
She encouraged people to continue using their masks and to sanitize to avoid further spread of the virus.
The experts were unanimous in their view that people infected have immunity against the variant and other lineages
De Oliviera revealed that various pharmaceutical companies in the world — based on their findings — were already working on producing more stronger vaccines.
Some of the new set of vaccines are expected in the next 10 weeks while other companies hope to produce them in the next four months.