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South African Variant can ‘Break Through’ Pfizer Vaccine

The coronavirus variant discovered in South Africa can “breakthrough” Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, according to a real-world data study in Israel.

Saturday, April 10, the released study compared almost 400 people who had tested positive for COVID-19, 14 days or more after they received one or two doses of the vaccine, against the same number of unvaccinated patients with the disease. It matched age and gender, among other characteristics.

The South Africa variant, known as B.1.351, among patients who received two doses of the vaccine was about eight times higher than those who were unvaccinated. The data, published online over the weekend, suggest the B.1.351 is better able to “breakthrough” the protection of the vaccine than the original strain, the researchers wrote in the study.

“We found a disproportionately higher rate of the South African variant among people vaccinated with a second dose, compared to the unvaccinated group. This means that the South African variant is able, to some extent, to break through the vaccine’s protection,” said Tel Aviv University’s Adi Stern.

The researchers cautioned, though, that the study only had a small sample size of people infected with the South African variant because of its rarity in Israel.

They also said the research was not intended to deduce overall vaccine effectiveness against any variant, since it only looked at people who had already tested positive for COVID-19, not at overall infection rates.

Some previous studies have indicated that the Pfizer/BioNTech shot was less potent against the B.1.351 variant than against other variants of the coronavirus, but still offered a robust defense.

“Even if the South African variant does break through the vaccine’s protection, it has not spread widely through the population,” said Ms. Stern, adding that the British variant may be “blocking” the spread of the South African strain.

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