There is currently great fear of the South Africa mutation, mainly because of its high risk of infection. Now the top German virologist Christian Drosten (49) gives at least a slight all-clear: “There is currently no evidence of a change in the severity of the disease,” he explains. Many questions are still open. It is also still unclear whether the variant is actually more contagious or whether another factor is the reason for the currently observed spread.
The genome changes in the pathogen actually indicated that the virus variant could evade the immune system. But: “Changes in the genome alone are not enough to speak of a worrying situation,” explained the virologist from the Berlin Charité. The evaluation of the variant has not yet been completed. Among other things, it must be clarified whether the virus has other changed properties and whether it is actually spreading faster.
The apparently particularly high speed of propagation could possibly also be related to other, specific conditions in South Africa that prevail there for the great wave of the delta variant. That will be cleared up in the coming days.
“Based on current judgment, one should assume that the available vaccines will continue to protect in principle,” says Drosten. The protection against severe infections is particularly robust against virus changes. “The best protection against the new variant is therefore to close all vaccination gaps in the population and to give booster vaccinations quickly.”
The appearance of variant B.1.1.529 in South Africa caused global concern. On Thursday, 22 cases of the new variant were already detected. In the meantime there have been cases in other countries, including Belgium. The variant has a particularly large number of mutations that were previously not known in this combination. On the one hand, the genetic changes affect the spike protein, which the viruses use to dock onto human cells. Many experts fear that the variant is more contagious than the previous one or that the vaccines no longer work. Drosten wants to wait with such judgments.