The discovery of the variant, which appears to be spreading rapidly in parts of South Africa, was announced by the country’s health minister on Thursday. A “variant of concern,” Omicron, was then designated as such by the World Health Organization on Friday.
US scientists are working closely with their South African counterparts to learn more about B.1.1.529, which is an emerging variant of the virus, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in a statement Friday.
Fauci told CNN’s Brianna Keilar that the virus appears to be spreading at a “reasonably rapid rate.” As of this writing, the variant has been found in South Africa and Botswana, as well as a South African traveler to Hong Kong from South Africa.
Scientists in the United States and South Africa are working together to learn more about the molecular makeup of the variant so that researchers can test for it in the United States. Current coronavirus vaccines may be able to protect against this variant more effectively with this kind of information, too.
Researchers fear that the variant’s high mutation rate could make it more transmissible and possibly evade current vaccines.
“You can test the material right now because we’re working with our South African colleagues to put it together. The red flag that this might be an issue is all you’re talking about right now, but we have no way of knowing “Fauci made the statement on Friday.
In order to know for sure if it evades our antibodies, “for example, through a vaccine,” he said. We don’t know for sure, but we’ll find out soon enough. The B.1.1.529 variant has over 30 mutations in the spike protein, an important structural component of the coronavirus that it uses to enter target cells.
That these mutations could potentially lead to increased transmissibility and immune response evasion “raises some concern,” Fauci said.
As a result, “we don’t know that for sure right now; this is really something that’s in motion, and we just scheduled a meeting between our scientists and the South African scientists a little bit later in the morning to really get the facts,” he said. “We want to find out exactly what is going on from scientist to scientist.”
In response to the B.1.1.529 variant, several countries, including the United Kingdom, have banned flights from South Africa and other African countries.
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In an interview with Keilar on Friday, Fauci said that before considering a travel ban, the United States needs to learn more about the variant and how well current vaccines work to combat it.
“We’ll make a decision as soon as we have more information to work with. You don’t want to say you’re going to do something until you have a scientific reason to do it, so you always put these ideas out there. For this reason, scientific data is urgently needed so that we can make an informed decision “Fauci said this, as well.
We need to know if the vaccines we’re using are working because that would be a huge problem for us. In order to ensure the safety of the American people, “you’re prepared to do everything you can to make sure there’s a basis for doing that.”
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