Someone holding an injection

What Do Scientists Know About The Nigerian COVID Variant?

This new strain of coronavirus has been found in many countries
Someone holding an injection
The Nigerian COVID variant is present in many countries already | iStock

Although according to experts, we are now emerging from the third wave and this is a hopeful prospect, the new variants of coronavirus continue to be the main threat for new waves of infections and hospitalizations, as their mutations make them much more contagious. This has led many governments in different countries to consider changes in their strategies and even in their vaccination plans in order to better cope with the spread of the disease. 

The three most important variants today are  the South African, Brazilian and British variants. However, other more minority variants are beginning to appear, one of which is already positive in many countries: the Nigerian variant.

What is known about this new variant?

This new strain from Nigeria has been detected by scientists at the University of Scotland, based on genomic sequencing of the virus with information from up to 10 countries. It would have emerged last December in the African country, and contains some mutations that concern scientists. The main mutations affect the protein 'Spike' which is responsible for opening the door to the cells to enter.

This mutation makes this strain much more contagious, as it is easier to enter the cells of the human body and take them over; this also happens with the British variant. In the case of the Nigerian variant, this mutation affects the ability to neutralize the entry of the virus into cells, which could lead to a significant reduction in the effectiveness of vaccines, as virologist Estanisao Nistal explains:

"This mutation quite affects the neutralizing capacity of some of the antibodies produced by stimulating the immune response that block the entry of the virus into our cells. But that does not mean that we will no longer have immunity. It's going to affect it, but not totally. The vaccine is still going to work."

In this regard, Public Health England has also made a statement on this type of mutations, stressing that "there is no evidence that these mutations cause a more severe disease or increase transmission".

For the moment, Spain has registered only one case of this new variant, although in other countries there are more. The United Kingdom has detected at least 53 cases, Denmark 59, and Nigeria 31; it has also been detected to a lesser extent in countries such as France, Canada, Australia, the Netherlands and Jordan.

Low sequencing is a problem

The fight against the new variants of COVID-19 has a burden in Spain: the low sequencing of coronavirus cases, which in Spain does not reach 5% of cases, a percentage recommended by the European Commission. Fernando Simón, Director of the Coordination Centre for Health Alerts and Emergencies of the Spanish Ministry of Health, admitted that Spain lacks this possibility at the moment:

"The truth is that there are few countries that can do it with the current situation, with the exception of the United Kingdom, Denmark and some others." This is key to combating new variants of the pathogen since sequencing allows scientists to know where the mutations are located and, therefore, to know whether these new variants will be more contagious, reduce the effectiveness of vaccines, or cause more serious clinical symptoms.

Foreseeing how these variants will affect the pandemic is also necessary to anticipate epidemic curves and design better pandemic strategies.

[This is a translation of the original article "Todo lo que saben los científicos sobre la variante nigeriana que ya está en España" published in espanadiario.net]