New COVID Variant B.1.1.529, Which May Evade Immunity, Found in These Countries

Scientists have voiced concern about a new COVID variant that has a "really awful" combination of mutations that could possibly cause the virus to evade immunity.

The variant, now called B.1.1.529, was reported on just days ago after a small cluster of cases were spotted by Tom Peacock, a virologist at Imperial College London in the U.K.

As of Wednesday this week, the variant had been detected in Botswana, South Africa, and Hong Kong, and there were only 10 cases reported, The Guardian newspaper reported.

Despite the low number of cases, B.1.1.529 has some experts worried due to the mutations it has.

In a Twitter thread on Tuesday, Peacock said the variant had a number of notable mutations such as K417N, S477N and E484A among several others associated with the virus' spike protein. The virus uses this protein to enter human cells.

Peacock wrote: "Worth emphasising this is at super low numbers right now in a region of Africa that is fairly well sampled, however it very very much should be monitored due to that horrific spike profile (would take a guess that this would be worse antigenically than nearly anything else about)."

While data is currently lacking, some scientists have speculated about what sort of advantages the virus might have over other variants based on what we know about its mutations.

Ravi Gupta, professor of clinical microbiology at the Cambridge Institute for Therapeutic Immunology and Infectious Diseases, has said the variant may be able to resist immunity.

He wrote on Twitter on Wednesday: "This one is worrying and I've not said that since Delta.

"Please get vaccinated and boosted and mask up in public as the mutations in this virus likely result in high level escape from neutralising antibodies."

A COVID variant that resists immunity may be more able to dodge the immune system of people who have either caught the virus once already or been vaccinated against it.

Greg Dore, an infectious disease physician at St Vincent's Hospital in Sydney, Australia, tweeted on Wednesday night that B.1.1.529 "has mutations associated [with] reduced vaccine effectiveness" but added it may also be that case that the variant is not particularly transmissible.

He added: "Time to monitor, not time to panic."

B.1.1.529 was added to the World Health Organization's list of variants under monitoring on Wednesday.

Correction: 11/26/2021, 2:47 a.m. EST. This article has been updated after it incorrectly stated data on B.1.1.529 was not available on GISAID or Outbreak.info.

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A stock photo shows a health worker testing someone for COVID. The new variant B.1.1.529 has not been detected in many cases at time of writing. RyanKing999/Getty