South African scientists have discovered that two novel sublineages of the Omicron coronavirus variant can evade antibodies from previous infections well enough to cause a new wave, but are significantly less able to thrive in the blood of patients who have been vaccinated against COVID-19.
The experts were looking into Omicron’s BA.4 and BA.5 sublineages, which were added to the World Health Organization’s monitoring list last month. They collected blood samples from 39 people who had been infected with Omicron when it first appeared at the end of last year. Only fifteen people were vaccinated, eight with Pfizer’s shot and seven with J&J’s, while the remaining 24 were not.
When unvaccinated samples were exposed to BA.4 and BA.5, antibody production was nearly eightfold lower than when they were exposed to the original BA.1 Omicron lineage. The vaccinated people’s blood indicated a threefold reduction.
Officials and scientists in South Africa said on Friday that the country may be entering a fifth COVID wave sooner than predicted, blaming a continuous surge in infections that appears to be driven by the BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron sub-variants.
Only approximately a third of South Africa’s 60 million people are properly immunized.