Vaccine-resistant coronavirus found in Russian bats

Researchers say they have discovered a vaccine-resistant coronavirus in Russian horseshoe bats.

That finding was reported Thursday in the Public Library of Science Pathogens medical journal. According to the report, most sarbecoviruses found in animals do not effect humans, but Khosta-2 has the potential of “using human ACE2 to facilitate cell entry.”

Current COVID-19 vaccines are not believed to be effective against Khosta-2. Scientists determined a related virus previously found in Russian bats, Khosta-1, could not infect humans. But a team of researchers led by Washington State University researcher Michael Letko said it discovered through lab testing that human cells could be compromised by Khosta-2.

According to Time magazine, like the SARS-CoV-2 Omicron variant, Khosta-2 may have the ability to infect humans, but there’s no early indication it leads to serious illness in most people. Letko can’t say whether Khosta-2 will be a problem for humans, but he is concerned that it has the potential to contribute to a new variant.

“The worry is that SARS-CoV-2 could spill back over to animals infected with something like Khosta-2 and recombine and then infect human cells,” Letko told Time. “They could be resistant to vaccine-immunity and also have some more virulent factors.”

Khosta-2 was detected in 2020. It belongs to the same sub-category of coronaviruses as SARS-CoV-2.

The discovery of Khosta-2, according to researchers, also serves as a reminder that “sarbecoviruses circulating in wildlife outside of Asia also pose a threat to global health and ongoing vaccine campaigns against SARS-CoV-2.”

The coronavirus that fueled the COVID-19 pandemic is believed to have originated in Wuhan, China in 2019. It has infected more than 600 million people and led to more than 6.5 million deaths, according to the World Health Organization.