New research conducted at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis has indicated that a trio of new and fast-spreading variants of the virus that causes COVID-19 can evade antibodies that work against the original form of the virus. With few exceptions, whether such antibodies are produced in response to vaccination or infection or if they’re purified antibodies intended for use as drugs, the team found more antibody is needed to neutralize the new variants.
The research suggests that COVID-19 drugs and vaccines developed so far could become less effective as new versions of the virus become dominant. The team says these new versions will inevitably become more dominant, including versions from South Africa, the UK, and Brazil. Researchers say that people who expect to have a protection level of antibodies after being infected with the virus or vaccinated against it may not be protected against new versions.
Researchers also point out that there is a wide variation in how much antibody a person produces in response to vaccination or infection. Some who produce very high levels of antibodies would still likely be protected against the new versions of the virus. However, some older or immunocompromised people may not make high levels of antibodies.
Data indicates the level of antibody needed for protection increases tenfold, and scientists are concerned those who need the protection the most may not have it. The three new versions of the virus that lead to COVID-19 all have multiple mutations in their spike genes that are feared to lessen the effectiveness of spike-targeted drugs and vaccines being used to prevent or treat infection currently.
For the research, the virus variants were tested against antibodies in the blood of those who had recovered from infection or who were vaccinated with the Pfizer vaccine. They found that the UK variant could be neutralized with similar levels of antibodies as were required to neutralize the original virus. However, the other two variants required between 3.5 and 10 times more antibodies for neutralization.