Just when you think COVID can't give us any more to worry about, it spawns off another strain to continue wreaking havoc on the world. Trailing just behind the U.K. strain, which is now in 10 states across the U.S., another variant of the virus first identified in South Africa is causing concern. Both variants have proven to be more transmissible, making it easier for the virus to spread faster. Now, Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), is warning about another "disturbing" problem the South African strain may present. To see what Fauci had to say about the strain, read on, and for more information on the South African strain, check out Dr. Fauci Just Issued This Warning About Another New COVID Strain.
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Antibody treatments may not work against the South African strain.
One of the most helpful tools for combating COVID are the monoclonal antibody treatments used to help patients with severe COVID. However, Fauci said there's a chance these treatments may not be effective against the South African strain of COVID. CNBC reports that after discussions with health experts in South Africa, Fauci said early data suggests there's "more of a threat" that the strain could evade some of the protections that antibody treatments provide to patients.
"It could be having some impact on protection for the monoclonal antibodies and perhaps even for the vaccine. We don't know that," Fauci said during a Q&A for Schmidt Futures' Forum on Preparedness on Jan. 12.
Antibody treatments target a specific component of the virus that the strain may have mutated.
During a Dec. 30 discussion with California Gov. Gavin Newsom, Fauci explained that antibody treatments work against a "very specific component of the virus," called the spike protein. So if that component is altered in a mutation, it could render the treatment less powerful.
On the other hand, "when you get vaccinated, the immune response that you make…works against many different parts of the virus," said Fauci, indicating it's likely that the vaccines will work against these strains. For more vaccine news, check out If You Take These OTC Meds, You Have to Stop Before Getting the Vaccine.
Fauci says we have to take the strain seriously.
"People ask me, 'Are you worried about it?' These are not the kind of things I worry about, but it's the kind of thing that I take very seriously," Fauci said during the forum.
In a discussion about the U.K. strain with NPR on Jan. 7, Fauci said the new strain is "serious enough we have to pay attention to it. We can't just blow it off." He added, "You always have to be concerned when you see mutations that have a functional capability." And for more up-to-date COVID news delivered straight to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.
One antibody treatment company isn't sure if their product will work against South African strain.
On Jan. 12, Eli Lilly Chairman and CEO Dave Ricks told CNBC the company expects that their monoclonal antibody treatment will be effective in treating the U.K. strain of COVID, but he was less confident about the South African strain.
"The South African variant… is the one of concern. It has more dramatic mutations to that spike protein, which is the target" of the antibody treatment, Ricks said. "Theoretically, it could evade our medicines." And for more information on the U.K. variant, check out Dr. Fauci Just Made This Scary Prediction About the U.K. COVID Strain.
The South African strain is not confirmed to be in the U.S. yet.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) hasn't identified any cases of the South African COVID strain in the U.S. However, there have been at least 72 cases of the U.K. strain reported in the U.S. as of Jan. 11. To see which states the U.K. strain is in, check out The New COVID Strain Is Now in These 10 States.