A new COVID-19 strain has been ravishing the UK the past few days. Will the current vaccines be effective against this new strain?
The new coronavirus strain is 'out of control,' said Secretary of State for Health Matt Hancock on 20 December to the BBC.
Is the new strain deadlier?
A new coronavirus variant appeared in the UK and has spread faster than wildfire. In a matter of days, it closed borders and forced regions of the country to go back into Tier 4, thus cancelling Christmas. Is this new strain more contagious than previous ones? The new strain carries a mutation called N501Y in the spike protein, which seems to be binding to human cells more easily. Hancock said:
I think that, given how much faster this new variant spreads, it is going to be very difficult to keep it under control until we have the vaccine rolled out.
As to be expected, the UK and the rest of the world are monitoring the situation with worry. The UK has among the highest Covid death rates in Europe, with more than 67,000 fatalities, and over 2 million cases.
Will this new variant resist to the vaccines currently being rolled out? Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that there is currently no evidence that the new COVID-19 strain is more lethal, that it causes a more severe form of the illness or that the new vaccines will be ineffective.
The European Union health authorities declared that the current vaccines remain effective against this new coronavirus strain.
Tests will be carried out
Nevertheless, new tests will be carried out to determine the impact of this new coronavirus strain on the vaccine. However, scientists are rather positive. The COVID-19 Genomics UK writes in a report published on 20 December:
At this point in time, there is no reason to believe that any of the mutations discussed here will affect vaccine efficacy
Nevertheless, in order to limit all risks of spreading this new variant, many neighbouring countries closed their borders to the UK, including France, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands. According to experts though, this new variant is not anymore cause for concern.Prof Julian Hiscox, Chair in Infection and Global Health, University of Liverpool, said:
Coronaviruses mutate all the time so it is not unexpected that new variants of SARS-CoV-2 are emerging, we see this all the time in other human and animal coronaviruses.
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