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South African Variant Spreading In Israel, Found In Random Testing

Israel’s Health Ministry identified three cases of the South African variant on Wednesday after carrying out sequencing on a random batch of test samples.

The three Israelis who tested positive for the variant have not been in contact with the 27 Israelis previously diagnosed with the South African variant, spurring fears that the variant is spreading throughout Israel.

Health officials fear that the South African variant will be resistant to existing vaccines. However, a preliminary study carried out by Pfizer and scientists from the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) indicates that the vaccine would be effective in neutralizing the virus, Reuters reported on Wednesday. Researchers say that the vaccine lost only a slight degree of effectiveness against an engineered virus with three key mutations from the South African variant.

The study’s findings, which have not yet been peer-reviewed, are limited because they didn’t examine the full set of mutations found in the variant. Prof. Pei-Yong Shi, one of the study’s authors, said that they are engineering a virus with the full set of mutations and hope to have more conclusive results in about two weeks.

Another preliminary study at Columbia University using different methods showed that antibodies produced in reaction to the vaccine were significantly less effective against the South Africa variant.

Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, the head of the Health Ministry’s Public Health division, said in an interview on Army Radio on Thursday morning that “if the vaccine is less effective against the South African mutation, we’ll consider the possibility of a third dose of the vaccine.”

(YWN Israel Desk – Jerusalem)

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