Russia says its COVID vaccines work on new variants after South Africa cases discovered

ANKARA, TURKEY - DECEMBER 24: In this photo illustration taken in Ankara, Turkey on December 24, 2020 Sputnik V, (Gam-COVID-Vac), COVID-19 vaccine logo is displayed on a screen with a syringe and a flacon in the front. (Photo by Hakan Nural/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
FILE PHOTO: In this photo illustration taken in Ankara, Turkey, Sputnik V, (Gam-COVID-Vac), COVID-19 vaccine logo is displayed on a screen with a syringe and a flacon in the front. (Photo by Hakan Nural/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Russia’s COVID-19 vaccines have proven effective against new variants of the coronavirus in trials, a scientist with Moscow’s consumer regulator said on Tuesday, after the agency reported its first cases of a variant first detected in South Africa.

President Vladimir Putin last month ordered a review to determine the efficacy of the three vaccines produced and registered in Russia against new variants spreading in different parts of the world. He said he wanted the results by March 15.

Consumer regulator Rospotrebnadzor said earlier on Tuesday it had identified the first two cases in Russia of the new variant of the coronavirus first detected in South Africa.

“In fact, trials have already been done in Russia and we can say with confidence that the (Sputnik V and EpiVacCoriona) vaccines registered in Russia also work against new strains,” Alexander Gorelov, deputy head of research at Rospotrebnadzor’s Institute of Epidemiology, said on state television.

Gorelov gave no details on trials that had tested vaccines against variants first discovered abroad.

Researchers conducting trials under the review ordered by Putin said on February  27 that results were looking strong when volunteers were re-vaccinated with Sputnik V against new mutations of the virus.

Reporting on trial results last week, Health Minister Mikhail Murashko said that Sputnik V had shown itself effective against the virus variant that was first detected in Britain.

The level of participants’ neutralizing antibodies against that variant did not significantly differ from the level of those associated with the original strain of SARS-CoV-2, according to Murashko.

-Small sample size-

Rospotrebnadzor said it had conducted 8,159 tests for mutations of the coronavirus so far. It was collecting and testing samples from a wide range of people, including those who have recently travelled abroad or are suspected to have been infected with coronavirus for a second time.

The regulator has also now found 28 cases of the coronavirus variant at first appeared in Britain, reporting the first case of that strain in January, though none of the variants first registered in Brazil.

The variant associated with South Africa was first identified there in December, where it now predominates. It has also now been detected in over 40 countries, according to the World Health Organization.

South African scientists say there is no clear evidence that the variant triggers more severe disease or worse outcomes. But it does appear to spread faster than previous iterations of the virus.

Since the start of the pandemic, Russia has reported more than 4 million COVID-19 cases and over 90,000 deaths.