Growing the beta variant – young scientist remembers the day they danced in the lab

During South Africa’s COVID-19 hard lockdown, rising star scientist Dr Sandile Cele spent his Christmas holidays in a laboratory. Soon the 35-year-old became the first to successfully grow the beta variant of SARS-CoV-2 in the lab. Biénne Huisman spoke to Cele about how he did this, the string of accolades he received since, and his leap from a modest upbringing to the global scientific stage.

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COVID-19: What next as shots expire and become harder to get?

Millions of doses of the Pfizer-BioNtech COVID-19 vaccine procured by the South African government have expired and the shot is largely unavailable to people in the country. Meanwhile, earlier this month, the World Health Organization declared an end to the COVID-19 ‘Public Health Emergency of International Concern’. Adele Baleta asks what all this means for COVID-19 in South Africa.

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HIV vaccine research set to change focus in wake of Mosaico disappointment

Top South African HIV clinicians are setting their sights on different approaches to finding an HIV vaccine after the “disappointing” news that the Mosaico trial was stopped early because the vaccine did not show any efficacy. The search for an HIV jab now seems set to pivot from vaccines that induce T-cell immunity to ones that induce B-cell immunity. Adele Baleta unpacks what that means and the reasoning behind it.

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COVID-19: The role of next-generation vaccines in immunity

Indications are that the virus that causes COVID-19 is going to continue evolving and escaping the protection against infection people already have. Researchers are working on next-generation vaccines tailored to fight off specific versions of the virus, like the Omicron sub-lineages BA.4 and BA.5. But can these new vaccines be tested and produced fast enough to keep up with the rapidly changing virus? Aisha Abdool Karim asked some local experts.

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COVID-19: Reinfections amid ‘complex mix of immunity’

Omicron and its sub-variants have been dominating new surges of SARS-CoV-2 infections around the world and were behind South Africa’s fifth wave. The BA.4 and BA.5 sub-lineages unveiled yet more surprises about the evasive nature of these ever-emerging forms of SARS-CoV-2. They also hold clues for what to expect next and how to prepare. Aisha Abdool Karim reports.

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INTERVIEW: “Guys, I think that’s a new variant” – de Oliveira reflects on two years chasing the virus

South African bioinformatics expert Professor Tulio de Oliveira was recently honoured with Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people award. Biénne Huisman sat down with him to talk about his part in the discovery of new COVID-19 variants, his chats with the President, and the treasure trove of scientific research excellence in Africa.

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