Professor Neil Ferguson, Imperial College London, has revealed that patterns in the data signal that the Indian variant could spread quicker among younger populations.
But, it is not clear whether this vulnerability is due to biological qualities of the B.1.617.2 strain or due to environmental factors such as higher chances of contact amongst those under 21, or the fact that this age group is yet to be vaccinated.
Vulnerability to the Indian variant could be due to low vaccination rates in youth
Professor Ferguson explained: ‘There’s a hint in the data that under-21s are slightly more likely to be infected with this variant compared with other variants in recent weeks in the UK.’
Whether that reflects a change in the biology or reflects what’s called founder effects and the context - the people who came into the country with the virus and then seeding of infection in certain schools and colleges - that’s impossible to resolve at the moment.
Those under the age of 21 will bethe last age group to be invited for their coronavirus vaccine, which will most likely take place around the end of July. As for those under 18, there are no plans yet for vaccination.
Prof Ravi Gupta, a microbiologist at Cambridge University, revealed in a virtual briefing: ‘I do think we should take these reports [of it spreading more quickly in the young] seriously because that’s the first sign that you have a problem.’
Often if you wait too long for the right data it’s too late. Hopefully, the countries where they’re seeing this will be studying it in a kind of rigorous way so that we can get that information.
Indian variant poised to become the UK’s next dominant strain
The Indian variant has become a major concern in the UK, the strain could not only threaten the easing of lockdown in England, but it could alsoovertake the Kent variant as the dominant COVID strain. Researchers believe that the strain could be up to 50% more transmissible than the B.1.1.7 strain, but research is still underway.
As researchers are rushing to gather more information on the variant, the NHS is also attempting to increase COVID vaccination efforts in hotspots such as Manchester, Kirklees, Bedford, Burnley, Leicester, Hounslow and North Tyneside, Bolton and Blackburn.
Meanwhile, Public Health England (PHE) has confirmed 3,424 cases of the Indian strain as of last Thursday, 2,111 more cases than the previous week. Several thousand more cases have also been revealed through genome sequencing but this data has yet to be added to PHE’s data.