A new coronavirus mutation discovered in South Africa has scientists concerned that it may be more transmissible and could reduce the efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines. The new strain, known as Omicron, has been labeled a "variant of concern" by the World Health Organization.
The new variant has about 50 mutations, including 30 in the spike protein, which the virus uses to get into the cells it attacks.
"It is the most heavily mutated version of the virus we have seen to date. This variant carries some changes we've seen previously in other variants but never all together in one virus. It also has novel mutations," Lawrence Young, a virologist and a professor of molecular oncology at Warwick Medical School in the United Kingdom, said in a statement.
More research needs to be done to determine how infectious the new strain is and if it can evade protection provided by the vaccines. Pfizer and BioNTech have said they are already studying the new strain and will be able to adapt their mRNA vaccine to the mutated virus within six weeks and begin shipping doses around the world within 100 days.
Johnson & Johnson announced that it has already begun testing the effectiveness of its vaccine against the Omicron variant.
The variant has been identified in Belgium, Botswana, Hong Kong, and South Africa.