A new peer-reviewed study found that the South African variant of the coronavirus is far more resistant to existing COVID vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna than initially believed. Compounding matters is that the South Africa COVID mutation, similar to the UK mutation, is also 50% more contagious than the original strain. And seeing as how the South African strain is already spreading in the US, many health experts believe that it’s still too soon for states to ease up on existing COVID restrictions.
The research study was made available via Nature this week and boasts a number of startling findings. Most importantly, the study found that Moderna’s COVID vaccine was 12.4 less effective against the South African strain. Pfizer’s COVID vaccine, meanwhile, was found to be about 10.3 less effective against the South African strain. One piece of good news from the study is that Pfizer and Moderna’s COVID vaccines seemed to hold up well against the UK strain currently spreading across dozens of communities in the US.
The authors of the study note that the South African strain’s resistance to COVID vaccines is a bit higher than they were anticipating.
“Taken together,” the authors note, “the overall findings are worrisome, particularly in light of recent reports that both Novavax and Johnson & Johnson vaccines showed a substantial drop in efficacy in South Africa.”
The authors go on to state that if the South African variant continues to spread and is eventually accompanied by even more mutations, there’s a risk that researchers will be perpetually chasing an ever-evolving form of the coronavirus, similar to how we currently battle different influenza strains every year.
“Such considerations require that we stop virus transmission as quickly as is feasible, by redoubling our mitigation measures and by expediting vaccine rollout,” the authors add.
To that end, the vaccination rollout in the US has continued to pick up steam with each passing week. After an embarrassingly slow start, the vaccination rate in the US currently stands at about 2.2 million doses per day. To date, 60 million Americans have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose while about 31.5 million people have received two doses.
At the current vaccination rate, and barring any unforeseen COVID outbreaks, the US is on track to achieve herd immunity sometime in August. However, with Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson all planning to significantly increase vaccine shipments over the next 3-4 weeks, there’s a strong possibility that the US might reach herd immunity before summer.
Meanwhile, revised CDC guidelines issued yesterday indicate that fully vaccinated individuals can congregate indoors with other vaccinated people without having to wear a mask. The new guidelines also add that vaccinated people “can gather indoors with unvaccinated people from one other household (for example, visiting with relatives who all live together) without masks, unless any of those people or anyone they live with has an increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19.”