By Daniel R. Lucey MD, MPH, FIDSA
Two manuscripts from Brazil, newly posted by accomplished researchers on preprint servers, report that the P.1 variant “associated with rapid transmission in Manaus” (by Faria N. et al.) and reported in the U.S. and 28 other nations, “may escape from neutralizing antibodies generated in response to polyclonal stimulation against previously circulating strains of SARS-CoV-2” (Souza W. et al.).
Notably, at least five mutations, including two antibody-evading mutations, are shared by the P.1 variant and the B.1.351 variant dominant in South Africa. Thus, the Moderna/NIH new vaccine study starting this month with the B.1.351 variant should add the P.1 variant to the outcome measurement comparing the virus neutralization of the original SARS-CoV-2 strain and the B.1.351 variant (described here Feb. 28).
In addition, efforts to test a P.1-specific variant vaccine in Brazil for similar laboratory studies of antibody neutralization, as well as clinical efficacy, should be supported urgently.
Although I consider the data from only eight vaccine volunteers too preliminary and not statistically significant, Souza et al. also state in their preprint manuscript (pdf p. 8 of 23) “Notwithstanding this point, these results suggest P.1 virus might escape from neutralizing antibodies induced by an inactivated SARS-CoV-2 vaccine (i.e., CoronaVac).”
Daniel Lucey, M.D. MPH, FIDSA, FACP, is a Clinical Professor of Medicine at Dartmouth Geisel School of Medicine, Infectious Disease adjunct Professor at Georgetown Medical Center, senior scholar at Georgetown Law, Anthropology Research Associate at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History and a member of the Infectious Diseases Society of America Global Health Committee. He served as a volunteer to outbreaks overseas including hands-on Ebola patient care in Sierra Leone and Liberia (Doctors without Borders) 2014, MERS 2013, SARS 2003, as well as HIV, H5N1, Zika, yellow Fever, and pneumonic plague 2017 (with WHO/USAID/CDC). Since Jan. 6, 2020 he has contributed over 75 posts to Science Speaks on COVID-19 and traveled to China in February 2020. He initially proposed, then fundraised and helped design the content for 2018-2022 Smithsonian Exhibition on Epidemics due to zoonotic viruses. From 1982-1988 he trained at University of California San Francisco and Harvard and was an attending physician at the NIH (NIAID) in the 1990s while in the US Public Health Service.