This blog represents the most up-to-date information about SARS-CoV-2 variant B.1.351 (also known as 501Y.V2) as of January 19, 2021.
The South African variant (B.1.351 or 501Y.V2) is distinct from the UK Variant (B.1.1.7 or 501Y.V2 or VOC2020212/01)
A variant of SARS-CoV-2 known as 501Y.V2 (B.1.351 lineage) is now spreading fervently, leaving many questions and concerns regarding public safety. B.1.351 was first reported in South Africa in December 2020, not long after initial reports of the B.1.1.7 variant that originated in the UK. As of the writing of this blog, B.1.351 has been identified in over 20 countries and territories, while B.1.1.7 has spread to over 50.1
Both variants are associated with increased transmissibility and are defined by an unusually large number of mutations. While B.1.351 shares the N501Y mutation with the B.1.1.7 variant—a mutation found in other lineages too—the two variants emerged independently and are phylogenetically different. B.1.351 includes not only the N501Y mutation but also E484K and K417N mutations at key sites in the receptor binding domain (RBD) of the spike (S) protein.2
B.1.351 (501Y.V2) impact on transmission, testing, and severity
B.1.351 is linked to higher viral load and increased transmission.3 While additional cases may stress already overloaded hospitals and systems, there is currently no evidence that B.1.351 is associated with increased severity of disease.3
Potential impact on vaccines
The spike protein is what SARS-CoV-2 uses to access human cells. Current vaccines are designed around the spike protein, which raises legitimate concerns about the multiple spike (S gene) mutations in B.1.351. Scientists are racing to understand if variants, like B.1351, could weaken immune responses activated by vaccines or previous infection.2
B.1.351 has multiple mutations in the spike protein, three of which are in a key region called the receptor binding domain (RBD).2 One mutation (N501Y) is the same as in the UK variant, which may be causing increased viral load and therefore increased transmissibility in both variants,2 but scientists do not believe the N501Y mutation will directly affect efficacy of the vaccines.4
For B.1.351, which harbors additional mutations in the RBD (E484K and K417N), the effectiveness of vaccines is still a concern as recent research from Dr. Bloom’s lab at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center has shown.5 While further research is rapidly being conducted to understand more about the bevy of mutations in these variants and their potential impact on vaccines, scientists around the globe remain hopeful.
How should you respond?
- Continue to test. Thermo Fisher Scientific the leader in COVID-19 testing solutions with involvement in more than 50% of worldwide testing. Our TaqPath COVID-19 test kits—designed with a multi-target approach to help compensate for emerging mutations—are used around the world for the detection of RNA from SARS-CoV-2.
- Check back with Thermo Fisher Scientific for details on new mutations and variants. We are committed to providing our global customers with gold-standard molecular diagnostic technology. We work closely with research teams and regularly monitor post-market reports and public genomic databases to ensure our coronavirus assays continue to meet the highest quality standards.
- Conduct epidemiological surveillance studies. The best way to stay ahead of current SARS-CoV-2 variants and any future lineages is to collect data to better understand how the outbreak looks now and more proactively plan for the future.
Visit our Emerging SARS-CoV-2 Mutations and Variants webpage for further information and links to additional learning resources.
Find out more about our TaqPath COVID-19 test kits:
- The TaqPath COVID-19 Combo Kit is Emergency Use Authorized (EUA)
- The TaqPath COVID-19 CE-IVD RT-PCR Kit is CE-IVD marked
Confirmation of the 501Y.V2 variant, and other variants, may be accomplished by sequencing. There are multiple options available for sequencing of SARS-CoV-2 research isolates. Learn how we can help your emerging SARS-CoV-2 variant and mutation surveillance efforts with our Sanger sequencing and NGS technologies. Our sequencing products are for research use only and not for use in diagnostic purposes.
If you have additional questions or would like to discuss your specific situation, please contact our technical support team at www.thermofisher.com/contactus.
Intended use and regulatory statements of products vary. For specific intended use and regulatory statements please refer to the Instructions for Use (IFU). Product availability by country varies. For product availability in your country, please check the TaqPath COVID-19 Multiplex Diagnostic Solution webpage.