Israeli variant of COVID discovered, infected hundreds, does not dispute vaccines


Scientists have discovered a variant of the Israeli coronavirus and believe there are hundreds of cases of the mutation in the north, south and center of the country – but they don’t think this poses a challenge to vaccine effectiveness.

The variant has so far been confirmed in around 180 patients, from Haifa in the north to Beer Sheva in the south, but since the sequencing necessary for its identification only takes place in samples from a minority of patients, it is believed that there are many other cases. .

The defining characteristic of the variant is a change of four amino acids at a location of the spike protein called 681. It was first discovered in July, but has not been documented until now, according to a ministry statement. health.

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“It is clear from the changes we have seen that there is something unique about Israel, which is why it is believed to have started in Israel,” said Professor Michal Linial, a member of the team that analyzed it for the ministry, to The Times of Israel.

Medical workers test Israelis at a coronavirus testing site in Safed on February 1, 2021 (David Cohen / Flash90)

She said other countries have seen variations with changes there, but none with the particular pattern identified by the researchers. And she said it was taken for granted that it would continue to develop.

“I can promise it would mutate more,” said Linial, a biochemist at Hebrew University.

Nonetheless, the Health Ministry issued a statement stressing that the variant has “no clinical or epidemiological significance,” and Linial said she believed there was no cause for concern.

“We’re pretty sure it won’t affect the effectiveness of the vaccination,” Linial said. “The mutation is at an important site of the virus, but it actually does not provide any additional benefit to the virus.”

Hebrew University Biologist Michal Linial (courtesy Michal Linial)

She explained, “It doesn’t appear to be more contagious, more transmissible or have additional severity. It is important to follow the variant, but it does not appear to have severe functionality or virology. ”

This is also likely to be true for any future mutations that emerge from it, she added.

That being said, Linial does not expect the variant to spread wildly in Israel, as it is less transmissible than the UK variant, which now accounts for around 90% of COVID cases in Israel.

“When there’s someone stronger it’s like the high school bully in control, and the British variant is like that,” she says.

Linial said the variant was sequenced at Sheba Medical Center and was part of the analysis team.

“Since the British mutation has become so prevalent, in Israel, as in many other places in the world, we have started to do a lot more sequencing. That’s fine, like if you don’t sequence, you’ll never know any mutations. And since the sequencing has been so extensive, the labs have seen this variant. “

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