South African coronavirus variant ‘can break through Pfizer vaccine’

The South African coronavirus variant can “break through” Pfizer/BioNTech’s Covid vaccine to some extent, a real-world data study in Israel has found.

The study was carried out by Tel Aviv University and Israel’s largest healthcare provider Clalit.

It compared almost 400 people who had tested positive for Covid-19 14 days or more after they received one to two doses of the vaccine against the same number of unvaccinated patients with the virus.

The South African variant, B.1.351, was found to make up about 1% of all the Covid cases across all the people studied.

But 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%.

The results suggest that the vaccine is less effective against the South African variant when compared to the original virus and a variant first identified in Britain that has come to comprise nearly all COVID-19 cases in Israel, the researchers said.

Tel Aviv University's Adi Stern 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.”

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However the researchers did stress that due to the small number of cases of the South African variant in Israel, only a very small sample size of people was used for the study.

They also said that the study was not meant to test the effectiveness of the vaccine against any variant as it was only researching those that had already tested positive for Covid and did not examine overall infection rates.

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Some previous studies have found that the Pfizer/BioNTech was less effective against the South African variant but still offered a robust defence.

While the news may sound worrying, researchers say the low spread of the South African strain was positive.

Adi continued: “Even if the South African variant does break through the vaccine's protection, it has not spread widely through the population.”

Adi added that the British variant may be “blocking” the spread of the South African one.

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