A trial of Johnson and Johnson’s coronavirus vaccine in South Africa may hold clues to the future of the covid-19 pandemic.
Salim Abdool Karim was at a cricket match on December 26, Boxing Day, when he made the mistake of looking at his email. He had received a new report and the news wasn’t good. A heavily mutated coronavirus spotted in South Africa appeared to allow the virus to bind more tightly, and more easily, to human cells.
Karim, an epidemiologist and lead covid-19 adviser to the South African government, knew what the report meant. It could explain a drastic change in covid-19 in his country, where rising case numbers were turning every province red.
“It simply went up, up, up, and up, into the equivalent of an Everest,” Karim says.
The rise in cases in South Africa has been linked to a new, highly mutated form of the covid-19 virus. And it’s just part of a wider pattern being seen around the world. Over the last month, weary researchers racing to understand new variants in Africa, Brazil, and the United Kingdom have pumped out a series of alarming reports on preprint servers, websites, and in official reports, describing a coronavirus that is changing in ways that appear to let it shrug off lockdowns, avoid antibodies, and retake cities, like London or Manaus, that already suffered through big first waves.