Covid-19 variant found in SA produces antibodies that provide broad protection

Penny Moore's research has found that the 'South African variant' of Covid-19 produces antibodies that work against all variants.
Penny Moore's research has found that the 'South African variant' of Covid-19 produces antibodies that work against all variants.
Image: National Institute for Communicable Diseases

People who have been infected with the coronavirus variant responsible for 98% of SA's Covid-19 cases have antibodies that fend off all variants.

The discovery, by National Institute for Communicable Diseases virologist Penny Moore, suggests vaccines might offer protection against all variants of the virus — even those that have not yet evolved.

A report in Nature on Friday said Moore and her team analysed antibodies from 89 people hospitalised with the so-called B. 1.351 infection, first detected in the Eastern Cape in November 2020.

They found that patients who recovered made as many antibodies as did those infected with earlier circulating variants. And the antibodies blocked other strains as effectively as B. 1.351.

Penny Moore
Penny Moore
Image: NICD

Moore told Nature she does not know why B. 1.351 infection results in a such a broad immune response, but she hopes to find out.

“It’s about the only thing I think about these days,” she said, speculating that the antibodies are recognising features of the viral spike protein that do not differ between variants.

Responding to Moore's research, co-led by Alex Sigal of the Africa Health Research Institute in Durban and posted on bioRxiv, Rockefeller University virologist Paul Bieniasz — who is also studying Covid-19 variants — told Nature: “Getting vaccines that will tackle the variants that are now circulating is an eminently solvable problem.

“It might be that we already have that solution.”

But Moore said: “I have infinite faith in the ability of a virus to escape an immune response.

“We've got to lower the global number of infections to the point where the virus doesn’t have as many opportunities to escape.”

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