Professor Neil Ferguson, from Imperial College London, recently revealed in a recent New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NervTag) meeting that the new strain of coronavirus is 50-70% more contagious than the original strain.
Ferguson also revealed that the new strain, which was initially discovered in south-east England, has shown an emerging pattern of high rates of infection amongst children. However, the professor also warned that much more observation needs to be done and it is not certain that the virus specifically targets children. He revealed:
We will need to gather more data to see how it behaves going forward. here are other epidemiologically interesting trends with virus, there is a hint that it has a higher propensity to infect children … but we haven’t established any sort of causality on that, but we can see that in the data.
Ferguson went on to say that even the original strain of coronavirus has seen an age distribution shift towards children as it had in the new strain but this was expected as schools remained open:
During the lockdown in England, we saw a general shift in the age distribution of the virus towards children, and that was true in the variant and non-variant and that is what we would expect, given that we had locked down which reduced adult contacts but schools were still open.
But what we’ve seen over the course of a five or six week period is consistently the proportion of pillar two cases for the variant in under 15s was statistically significantly higher than the non-variant virus. We are still investigating the significance of that.
Ferguson also suggested that despite the idea still being a hypothesis as yet, the tendency for the new variant to spread amongst children would explain much of it’s higher transmission rate.
NervTag member Professor Wendy Barclay also stated that the new variant’s tendency to infect children could indicate that the new strain is better at latching onto human cells. This means that while the previous version of the virus struggled to infect children, the new variants’ increased ability now places children and adults at a similar level of vulnerability.
Chairman of NervTag Peter Horby spoke at a Science Media Centre briefing stating:
This afternoon more than a dozen scientists met again, with some new faces who weren’t at the Friday meeting. We went through all the data again and the additional analysis, both on bigger data sets and using different methods.
The chairman continued, confirming that the new strain of the virus is indeed, much more contagious than the original:
The conclusion this afternoon is that we now have high confidence that this variant does have a transmission advantage over other virus variants that are currently in the UK.
However, just because of the new strain, known also as VUI-202012/01, is more infectious, that doesn’t necessarily make it more dangerous. The government’s Chief Scientific Advisor, Sir Patrick Vallance revealed at a Downing Street conference yesterday that there is no reason to believe the new variant is any more dangerous than the original:
There is no evidence that the disease course is any different, so if you catch it the disease looks the same as any other form of Covid infection.
He continued to put everyone’s minds at ease by confirming that the vaccine should still be effective against the new strain of the virus.
In terms of the immune response, there is nothing to suggest that this won’t have the same susceptibility to antibody attack from vaccine or pre-existing infection as any other form. At the moment, the vaccine looks as though it should be as effective and that’s obviously being looked at.