Gold-standard experiments on two COVID-19 vaccines suggest that they confer immunity against a subtype of the SARS-CoV-2 variant tearing through India. But the research also hints that this subtype is more resistant to antibodies than are other forms of the virus.
“These vaccines are working,” says Mehul Suthar, an immunologist at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, who led the research1. Still, the results underscore the need to continue monitoring vaccine response to SARS-CoV-2 mutations, which often affect the all-important spike protein that the virus uses to infect cells. “Because of the spectrum of mutations that have accumulated within the spike protein, the antibodies just don’t work as well,” says Suthar.
First detected in India last October, the variant B.1.617 was this year linked to a rapid rise in cases in a handful of Indian states and has now been found in more than 40 countries. The subtypes B.1.617.1 and B.1.617.2 have both been detected with increasing frequency in India in the past few months; both carry two mutations linked to increased transmissibility. Because of their quick spread, scientists are keen to find out whether the various forms of B.1.617 undermine COVID-19 vaccines.