As we pass the one-year mark of COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2 continues to mutate, causing variant strains to emerge and spread across the globe. Currently, the main coronavirus variants of concern have been identified as originating in Britain, South Africa, Brazil and California.
COVID-19 vaccines scheduled to be approved at the end of 2020 gave the world hope that the end of the pandemic would soon be a reality. However, the rapid emergence of these new variants threatens to postpone the eagerly anticipated end of this pandemic.
Public fear generates a concern that the vaccines might be ineffective against the new variants, but these fears may be unwarranted in most cases. The mutations in the variants may cause the virus to spread faster or make people sicker – risks that primarily affect those who remain unvaccinated.
The vaccines will have different success rates with different coronavirus variants, but will nevertheless retain relatively high efficacy in preventing infection and serious illness or hospitalization.
Research is still being collected on the efficacy of the different vaccines against the new strains. A recent study conducted in Israel concerning the Pfizer vaccine efficacy against the British (B.1.1.7) and South African (B.1.35) variants.
The study found that the Pfizer vaccine retained a high efficacy, although a slightly reduced effectiveness against both variants. The B.1.35 variant was found to be more likely to cause breakthrough infections, but these breakthroughs occurred one to two weeks after the second dose, with no breakthroughs occurring after the 14th day of an individual has received the second dose.
The study concludes its findings with the reassuring statement that despite the more frequent breakthrough infections with the variants, continuing with the mass-vaccination of two doses and non-pharmaceutical intervention measures, like masks, can control and contain the spread of the virus.