CDC: The South African COVID-19 Variant Has Arrived in America, Will the Vaccines Work?

Shortly after the arrival of the UK variant of the COVID-19 virus, the Center for Disease Control announced, the South African variant has also arrived.  On January 28th, the CDC reported that the first US documented cases of the B 1.351 variant of SARS-CoV-2, which was first detected in South Africa, have been identified in South Carolina.  This weekend, the South African variant was found in Maryland.

As of Today, three cases have been found in the U.S., but more troubling is that none of the patients traveled to South Africa, meaning the virus is now out there.  The South African variant is not believed yet to be more deadly, but it has been reported that it is more contagious than the COVID-19 virus that caused the pandemic.

“The CDC is early in its efforts to understand this variant and will continue to provide updates as we learn more. At this time, we have no evidence that infections by this variant cause more severe disease. Like the UK and Brazilian variants, preliminary data suggests this variant may spread more easily and quickly than other variants,” the CDC said. “CDC will continue communicating with international, state, and local partners to monitor the presence and impact of variants in the United States and around the world. Monitoring variants is why CDC has expanded National SARS-CoV-2 Strain Surveillance (NS3).  We continue working with national reference laboratories, state health departments and researchers from around the country to gather sequence data and increase the use of genomic sequencing data in response to this pandemic.”

But, does the Pfizer vaccine work to stop this newly arrived South African mutation? The company says yes.

The vaccine, the company claims, neutralized SARS-CoV-2 with key mutations present in the United Kingdom (U.K.) and South Africa variants, as measured by studies conducted by Pfizer and the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB).

Pfizer and BioNTech are encouraged by these early in vitro study findings and are currently evaluating the f ull set of mutations in the spike protein of the South African variant. While these findings do not indicate the need for a new vaccine to address the emerging variants, the Companies are prepared to respond if a variant of SARS-CoV-2 demonstrates evidence of escaping immunity by the COVID-19 vaccine.

Moderna says their vaccine is capable of neutralizing the South African variant.

“The two-dose regimen of the Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine at the 100 µg dose is expected to be protective against emerging strains detected to date. Nonetheless, Moderna today announced its clinical strategy to proactively address the pandemic as the virus continues to evolve,” Moderna said.

“As we seek to defeat the COVID-19 virus, which has created a worldwide pandemic, we believe it is imperative to be proactive as the virus evolves. We are encouraged by these new data, which reinforce our confidence that the Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine should be protective against these newly detected variants,” said Stéphane Bancel, Chief Executive Officer of Moderna. “Out of an abundance of caution and leveraging the flexibility of our mRNA platform, we are advancing an emerging variant booster candidate against the variant first identified in the Republic of South Africa into the clinic to determine if it will be more effective to boost titers against this and potentially future variants.”

Both Moderna and Pfizer are confident their vaccines will also neutralize the UK variant of the virus.

The CDC recommends that people avoid travel at this time. However, for those who must travel, additional measures have been put in place to increase safety; especially as COVID-19 variants spread around the world.  As of January 26, all air passengers flying into the United States must provide a negative test result or documentation of recovery to the airline before they board a flight to the US.  This is one aspect of the comprehensive, science-driven response to reduce the spread of COVID-19 through travel and in the United States.

As always, the CDC’s recommendations for slowing the spread—wearing masks, staying at least 6 feet apart from others, avoiding crowds, ventilating indoor spaces, and washing hands often—will also prevent the spread of this variant.