People infected with new Covid-19 variant less likely to get reinfected

By Se-Anne Rall Time of article published Mar 3, 2021

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DURBAN - Scientists have found that people who have been infected by the new Covid-19 variant, dubbed 501Y.V2, have developed antibodies preventing reinfection.

Speaking during a virtual media briefing, the KwaZulu-Natal Research and Innovation Sequencing Platform’s (Krisp)’s Professor Tulio de Oliveira said people infected by the new variant have immunity against the variant and other lineages.

The briefing was jointly hosted by Higher Education, Science and Innovation Minister Dr Blade Nzimande and Health Minister Dr Zwelini Mkhize.

Genomic research has proved to be a potent tool in the fight against Covid-19. Investigations by South African genomic scientists into the evolutionary characteristics of Sars-CoV-2 resulted in the detection of the new variant.

De Oliveira said their studies and research into both the first and second wave found that genomic surveillance is a critical component of the epidemic response.

Krisp was the first programme in the world to show 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 poses problems of “vaccine escape”.

De Oliveira said plasma from people infected with 501Y.V2 has good neutralising activity against “first wave” viruses and potentially other variants.

Senior scientist at the National Institute for Communicable Diseases, Penny Moore, said one of the key take-aways from the extensive research undertaken by Krisp is that those who had contracted Covid-19 had good antibody responses.

However, she added that at this stage, they did not know how long those antibodies would last.

"We strongly encourage people to continue taking non-pharmaceutical interventions such as wearing a mask, washing their hands and keeping safe social distances. People still need to be protected and stay protected," she said.

Commenting on the findings, Mkhize said it was important to note that the Krisp team demonstrated the huge boost that the new variant could have against its predecessor.

He further commended the team on their efforts thus far, noting the work done by Sandile Cele of the UKZN Nelson Mandela School of Medicine, who found a creative way of growing the 501Y.V2 variant.

Meanwhile, Nzimande revealed that so far, his department has provided R69.4 million in funding for research for 21 projects.

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