A laboratory technician tests material with a single-channel pipette dropper during processing of the Covid-19 polymerase chain reaction test (PCR) in a laboratory in the South African suburb of Dunkeld in Johannesburg, South Africa on Wednesday, February 10, 2021.
Waldo Swiegers | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Preliminary reports from South Africa show that people who have recovered from Covid-19 have been re-infected with a new, contagious variant of the virus, World Health Organization officials said at a news conference on Friday.
The good news, however, is that vaccines designed to protect against the virus appear to reduce the severity of the disease in those who develop Covid-19, even if they don't completely protect them from infection, the chief scientist said the WHO, Dr. Soumya Swaminathan.
"The (vaccination) studies that have so far been carried out in South Africa and Brazil with various candidates have shown complete protection against serious illness, hospitalization and death. None of the studies reported a single case," she said.
According to the WHO, vaccination can also reduce the spread of new Covid variants.
"There are now reports that when you have the vaccine and you get infected, the viral load is much lower, so you may be less likely to infect others," Swaminathan said.
Previous Covid infection creates antibodies and cell-mediated immunity that are believed to prevent re-infection, scientists have found. Vaccination also helps individuals build protection against the virus.
However, the researchers are still investigating the extent to which previous infection and vaccination will protect against the new, more infectious variants of the coronavirus.
Increased vaccination efforts alone are unlikely to be enough to control the spread of the UK-native strain of coronavirus, said Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, told CNBC on Thursday. Gottlieb said a combination of incoming warmer weather and increased vaccinations could help contain the variant.
Swaminathan at the WHO briefing on Friday stressed the importance of vaccinated people continuing to take precautions such as wearing masks, hand washing and social distancing to control the spread of the virus.