Another new coronavirus variant has been found, this time in South Africa, where experts worry it will be resistant to vaccines now being rolled out around the world. Shabir Madhi, a scientist who led trials for the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine in South Africa, says there is a "theoretical" but "reasonable concern … that the South African variant might be more resistant" to current vaccines, and therefore "weaken the impact," per the BBC. Vaccines work by prompting an immune response, including the creation of antibodies, which effectively block the virus. The concern is that antibodies might not be as effective against this new strain, dubbed 501.V2. Experts hope to find out for certain by the end of the month, per CBS News, and say there is no reason to panic in the meantime.
Though this variant has mutated "far more than the variant in the UK," known as B117, per the BBC, scientists say there is no evidence to suggest it is more transmissible or deadly. That said, it has "spread like wildfire" along South Africa's coast and already reached abroad, including the UK, per the Guardian. UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock says he's "incredibly worried," per CBS. "Fortunately, should further modifications of the vaccine be required to address the new variants, some of the vaccine technologies under development could allow this to be done relatively rapidly," Helen Rees, a vaccine expert at Wits University in Johannesburg, tells the BBC. For Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine lead Sir John Bell, this is a sign of things to come. "These are not the only two variants we are going to see," he tells the Guardian. (Read more coronavirus stories.)