South African COVID-19 variant may resist antibody drugs, ex-FDA head says

The South African COVID-19 variant known as 501.V2, which is also prevalent in Brazil, may "obviate" antibody drugs, Scott Gottlieb, MD, former FDA commissioner, told CNBC Jan. 5. 

"The variant is very concerning right now because it does appear that it may obviate some of our medical countermeasures, particularly the antibody drugs," Dr. Gottlieb said. 

That makes ramping up vaccinations in America even more critical, he told CNBC. 

"It really is a race against time trying to get more vaccine into people's arms before these new variants become more prevalent here in the U.S.," he said.

The variant may partially avert or weaken existing immunity from a prior COVID-19 infection, according to experimental results recently published in the preprint server bioRxiv and cited by Dr. Gottlieb. 

Dr. Shabir Madhi, lead researcher of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine trials in South Africa, told CBS Jan. 5 that the country has seen more than 13 coronavirus variants since the start of the pandemic, though 501.V2 is currently the most worrisome. 

"It's not a given that the vaccine will not work on this variant, but it is a consideration that the vaccine might not have the full efficacy," he said. 

So far, the South African variant has been detected in a handful of cases in the U.K., France, Switzerland, Japan, Austria and Zambia. 

More articles on public health:
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19 states where COVID-19 is spreading fastest, slowest: Jan. 6
States ranked by percentage of COVID-19 vaccines administered


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