The variant was first seen in South Africa in October and is now found in more than a dozen countries.
In both studies, the work was performed in the laboratory and not in humans, so more research is needed to measure the true threat from the new variant.
“I think the evidence is based on the fact that these mutations – and I think other mutations – will appear all over the globe – and that are already emerging – which avoid antibodies from previous infection,” Alex Sigal , a virologist at the Africa Health Research Institute and the Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology, told CNN. “It’s worrying.”
It is unclear if this means that anyone would be vulnerable to the new variant if they had already had Covid-19, or what this might mean for people who have been vaccinated.
“When you see two groups independently arrive at the same basic answer, as well – there is more consonance that they are correct,” said Jesse Bloom, a virologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.
This study looked at far fewer mutations in the variant than the South African studies examined.
None of the studies were peer reviewed or published in medical journals.
While researchers are finding out if these variants are particularly dangerous – and studies are underway in several laboratories around the world – one thing is clear: Get the vaccine if you can.
“I would definitely get it if I could,” Sigal said. “My father-in-law had the opportunity to fly to Israel and get it, and I shot him out of the house because you can not get it here in South Africa.”
A trio of studios
In his research, Sigal found that antibodies from all six subjects did not fully fight against the new variant.
“One participant had a pretty good answer, but no one escaped unscathed,” he said.
The study was published on the website of KRISP, Kwazulu-Natal Research Innovation and Sequencing Platform. The other two surveys were sent on a pre-print server.
In the study, which had similar findings, blood was drawn from 44 people in South Africa who had had Covid-19. Almost all of their cases were confirmed to have taken place before September, which is before the variant was seen in South Africa.
The researchers then looked to see if their antibodies would fight the new variant.
For about half of the 44 people, their antibodies were powerless against the new variant. In the second half, the antibody response was weakened but not completely knocked out.
In the third study, conducted at Rockefeller University, researchers examined blood from 20 people who had received either the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines. Different mutations in the viruses allowed some escape from some types of antibodies, but the volunteers’ immune system threw an army of different types of antibodies against the viruses.
The Rockefeller study looked at fewer mutations than the two South African studies. It looked at three key mutations on spines that sit on top of the coronavirus, as it is the part of the virus that targets the vaccines.
“It’s useful, but still not the complete story,” said John Moore, a vaccine researcher at Weill Cornell Medicine.
However, the South African studies used the virus itself or a model of it that contained eight peak mutations.