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Sri Lanka detects South African COVID-19 “Escape” variant amongst others

FRONTLINE: A nurse in Sri Lanka getting ready to vaccinate fellow health workers.

ECONOMYNEXT – A Sri Lankan university laboratory has detected a number of COVID-19 variants including the fast-spreading South African mutation E484K, an expert said.

University of Sri Jayewardenepura laboratory has sequenced 93 samples from patients in Mahiyanganaya, Avisawella, Pelmadulla, Ehiliyagoda, Wadduwa, Kuruwita, Biyagama, Matale, Rattota, Kalutara and Colombo Municipal Council areas.

Dr Chandima Jeewandara, Director of Allergy Immunology and Cell Biology Unit, University of Sri Jayewardenepura told EconomyNext that out of the 93 samples, 81 were of the B.1.411 Sri Lankan lineage.

“However, one of 81 samples that have the Sri Lankan variant we got from Mahiyangana had the E484K mutation. This is a mutation of concern, and problems with the vaccine can arise as seen in the South African and Brazilian variants,” he said.

The South African variant with E484K mutation is known as B.1.351.

Dr.Chandima said due to the patients are in quarantine centers the possibility for the variant to enter the community has been stopped by the Ministry of Health.

So far Sri Lanka has detected more patients with the B.1.1.7 UK variant, six patients with B.1.428 European variant and one patient with the B.1.1.103 Bangladesh variant during the sample testing.

Jeewandara added that testing is underway to identify any other variants.

This variant is dubbed the escape variant as it helps the virus slip past the body’s immune defences, BMJ, a global healthcare knowledge provider said in its blog.

According to global reports, the vaccine efficacy drops against a new variant if it carries a high-level of E484K mutation as found in the South African variant.

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“There has been research showing that the current vaccines work against the UK B.1.1.7 variant without the E484K mutation,” BMJ said.

BMJ reiterated that the “B.1.1.7 variant is more transmissible and a combination of a faster spreading virus that is also better at evading immunity is worrying—if it isn’t stopped, it would outcompete the older B.1.1.7 variant”.

Even clinical trials by Novavax and Johnson & Johnson have shown that their new vaccines were less effective in South Africa compared with the UK or US, which is presumably because of the high level of virus carrying the E484K mutation.

However, Novavax had reported a 60% efficacy of their vaccine in South Africa.

Sri Lanka detected the fast spreader B.1.1.7 (UK lineage) variant of the novel coronavirus in early February from Colombo, Avissawella, Biyagama and Vavuniya and from a few individuals in the quarantine centres.

Reported by Mahadiya Hamza and Chanka Jayasinghe (Colombo/Mar12/2021)

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