RIO DE JANEIRO, April 14 (Reuters) – Brazil’s P1 coronavirus variant behind a deadly COVID-19 wave in the Latin American country that has raised international alarm mutates in ways that could make it better able to escape antibodies, according to researchers studying the virus.
Research conducted by the Fiocruz Institute of Public Health on variants circulating in Brazil found mutations in the tip region of the virus used to enter and infect cells.
These changes, the researchers said, could make the virus more resistant to vaccines ̵
“We believe it is another escape mechanism that the virus creates to avoid the response of antibodies,” said Felipe Naveca, one of the authors of the study and part of Fiocruz in the Amazon city of Manaus, where the P1 variant is thought to have its origin. .
Naveca said the changes appeared to be similar to the mutations seen in the even more aggressive South African variant, against which studies have shown that some vaccines have significantly reduced efficacy.
“This is particularly worrying because the virus continues to accelerate in its development,” he added.
Studies have shown that the P1 variant is as much as 2.5 times more contagious than the original coronavirus and more resistant to antibodies.
On Tuesday, France suspended all flights to and from Brazil in an attempt to prevent the spread of the variant as Latin America’s largest economy becomes more and more isolated.
The variant, which has quickly become dominant in Brazil, is believed to be a major factor behind a massive second wave that has brought the country’s death toll to over 350,000 – the second highest in the world behind the United States.
Brazil’s outbreaks are also increasingly affecting younger people, with hospital data showing that more than half of all patients in intensive care in March were 40 years or younger.
For Ester Sabino, a scientist at the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Sao Paulo who conducted the first genome sequencing of coronavirus in Brazil, the mutations in the P1 variant are not surprising given the rapid transmission rate.
“If you have a high level of transmission that you have in Brazil at the moment, your risk of new mutations and variants increases,” she said.
So far, vaccines such as those developed by AstraZeneca and China’s Sinovac have been shown to be effective against the Brazilian variant, but Sabino said further mutations could jeopardize this.
“It’s a real possibility,” she said. (Reporting by Pedro Fonseca, writing by Stephen Eisenhammer Editing by Daniel Flynn and Steve Orlofsky)