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Emory research: COVID variant in India, U.S. more resistant to antibodies that fight the infection

However, researchers say the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, which were part of the study, are still effective.

ATLANTA — Preliminary results from an Emory University study of the powerful coronavirus variant that is ravaging India, show that antibodies from people who have received the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine, and antibodies from those who have had COVID, are nearly seven-times less able to fight off the variant.

However, even with that, the study shows that the vaccines still work. The variant B.1.617.1 has also been detected in the U.S.

It is a revealing study into the brutal, late-wave of horrific COVID infections that are ripping through India, overwhelming the nation’s health system.

The Emory University researchers in Atlanta, led by Mehul Suthar, M.D., have found, in preliminary studies, that even people who have survived COVID, and even people who have been vaccinated with Moderna or Pfizer, are susceptible to the B.1.617.1 variant.

“The blood samples, across all of these samples, were approximately seven-fold less effective at their ability to block or neutralize this variant,” Dr. Suthar told reporters during a Zoom call on Tuesday.

It is one way of explaining, he said, why the variant has been able to spread throughout India and beyond so quickly.

“These data continue to raise concerns, overall, about the spread and emergence of these ‘variants of concern,’ how quickly they can go from one location and spread throughout the world,” he said.

Now family and friends of Rakesh Seetharam of Atlanta are mourning his death, and trying to raise money to support his wife and son. Seetharam was 38 years old.

He had been in India unable to return home because of the travel ban. But all that time he was still able to avoid infection, and was on the verge of finally flying back to Atlanta.

But when the variant swept through India, he succumbed. He died there, last week.

Suthar’s team found that despite the variant’s potency, the vaccines can still work against it.

“Despite this reduction (in ability to fight off the variant), what we found is that all vaccine blood samples (tested), and nearly 80 percent of blood samples from individuals that have previously been infected, still maintain the ability to block this variant” from India, he said. “Twenty percent (of the blood samples from COVID survivors) lost their ability to block this variant.”

He said the study showed conclusively that because of the effectiveness of the vaccines, “being able to increase the rates of vaccinations will certainly help in tamping down the amount of infections that are on-going in India.”

And he expects that the data from the study will, in the months ahead, help the vaccine manufacturers develop booster shots against more and more variants that are evolving.