South African Variant May Evade Protection From Pfizer Vaccine, Warns Israeli Scientists.
The coronavirus variant first discovered in South Africa may evade the protection provided by Pfizer/BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine to some degree, a real-world data study in Israel found, though its prevalence in the country is very low and the research has not been peer-reviewed.
Released on Saturday, April 10, the study, compared almost 400 people who had tested positive for COVID-19, 14 days or more after they received one or two doses of the vaccine and then compared the results against the same number of unvaccinated patients with the disease.
The study matched age and gender, among various other characteristics.
The South African variant, B.1.351, was found to make up about 1% of all the COVID-19 cases across all the people studied, according to the study by Tel Aviv University and Israel’s largest healthcare provider, Clalit.
However, among patients who had received two doses of the vaccine, the variant’s prevalence rate was eight times higher than those unvaccinated – 5.4% versus 0.7%.
These results suggest that the vaccine is less effective against the South African variant, compared with the original coronavirus and a variant first identified in Britain that has come to comprise nearly all COVID-19 cases in Israel, the researchers said.
“We found a disproportionately higher rate of the South African variant among people vaccinated with a second dose, compared to the unvaccinated group. This means that the South African variant is able, to some extent, to break through the vaccine’s protection,” said Tel Aviv University’s Adi Stern.
The researchers cautioned, though, that the study only had a small sample size of people infected with the South African variant because of its rarity in Israel.
They also said the research was not intended to deduce overall vaccine effectiveness against any variant, since it only looked at people who had already tested positive for COVID-19, not at overall infection rates.
Pfizer has not commented on the Israeli study. Pfizer and BioNTech said on April 1 that their vaccine was around 91% effective at preventing COVID-19, citing updated trial data that included participants inoculated for up to six months.
Previous studies had indicated that the Pfizer-BioNTech shot was less effective against the B.1.351 variant than against other variants of the coronavirus, although it still offered a robust defence.
The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine offers as little as 10 per cent protection against the variant, researchers have suggested. A trial of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine, which was made in partnership with Janssen Pharmaceuticals, found it was about 85 per cent effective in protecting against severe cases of COVID-19, and 57 per cent effective against all forms of the disease.
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