How widespread the new variants are

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According to WHO, the South African mutant B.1.351, which showed partially lower vaccine efficacy in initial tests, has been confirmed in 44 countries, the Brazilian B.1.1.28 in 15 – both mainly also in Western Europe, but the Brazilian one not yet in Austria.

Increased transmissibility
According to the World Health Organization, 86 countries worldwide, including Austria, have reported the B.1.1.7 variant, which was first detected in the United Kingdom, and suspected cases were being investigated in several others. In the United Kingdom, the proportion of cases with the mutation among samples tested rose from 63 percent in mid-December to 90 percent in mid-January. This trend had continued in recent weeks, with strict pandemic measures resulting in an overall decline in the number of cases and deaths.

The British mutant is more transmissible than the previously known virus, and preliminary results also suggest an increase in severe illness. Vaccines previously licensed in Europe showed no impact on efficacy, WHO stressed.

The South African variant, which has also been detected in Austria, among other countries, also showed increased transmissibility in studies already known. Of greater concern, moreover, were data on vaccinations, which are increasingly being ramped up worldwide. Laboratory studies found a slight reduction in neutralizing antibodies in people vaccinated with Moderna or Pfizer/Biontech vaccines, although neutralizing titers still remained above expected levels of protection, WHO reported.

Preliminary results from the Novavax, Johnson & Johnson, and Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccines had shown that efficacy against the B.1.351 mutant may be reduced. In a small study in South Africa, two-dose therapy with Oxford/AstraZeneca resulted in nonsignificant efficacy against mild and moderate covid-19 courses. Efficacy in preventing severe disease, hospitalizations, and deaths has not yet been studied. In clinical trials without this variant, Oxford/AstraZeneca had 100 percent protection against severe courses. WHO emphasized the need for further investigation.

B.1.1.28 not detected in Austria
The B.1.1.28 mutant was initially identified in Brazil in December in addition to a group of travelers from Brazil to Japan. Again, the transmission rate may be elevated. In the Manaus region of Brazil, the proportion of cases with the mutant increased from 52 percent in December to 85 percent in January. Additional studies are needed to determine the severity of the illnesses and a suspected possible reduced effectiveness of vaccines, according to WHO. The Brazilian variant has not yet been detected in Austria, but has been found in neighboring Italy and Germany and other Western European countries.

The proven occurrence of all three mutants has so far been limited to imported cases in many countries, the WHO explained. However, in a growing number of countries in Europe and some areas of North America, local transmission has also occurred with the British variant. The emergence of new variants highlights the importance of countries continuing to strengthen public and social health measures, according to WHO. In addition, further studies are needed on emerging variants and their impact.

  • source: orf.at/picture: pixabay.com
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