Viruses mutate all the time, so it’s no surprise the coronavirus which emerged in China in 2019 has undergone significant mutations as it replicates and spreads.
But a new strain from South Africa is causing concern. Like a UK variant discovered in recent months, the one in South Africa is proving to be far more transmissible.
While the two strains spread more easily, scientists do not believe they are deadlier. But being more transmissible means more people can get infected, and this could mean more serious infections and more fatalities.
Questions are now being raised over whether the vaccines developed at breakneck speed last year, the frontrunners being those developed by Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca will be effective against significant mutations of the virus, such as the one identified in South Africa.
While scientists believe the U.K. variant is not likely to affect the efficacy of the vaccines, there is more uncertainty about the South African strain.