Does the vaccine work against it and why is it called ‘worst ever’?

A NEW variant of Covid threatens the fight against the virus and is “deeply worrying” among scientists.

Ministers moved quickly to try to keep it out of the UK, but it is likely the suspected fast-spreading strain has came.

The virus has evolved again


The virus has evolved againCredit: Getty

The variant has the scientific name B.1.1.529 and has only been recognized in the past few days.

It will be assigned the name “Nu” by the World Health Organization if it determines the strain is a “Variant of Concern”.

The majority of infections are in South Africa, which has seen a significant increase in Covid cases.

It has the potential to change the course of the pandemic due to its characteristics. But there are a lot of scientists who don’t know about it.

So what do we know?

Why is it the worst ever?

Some experts have said that this is a very interesting variant.

Professor Ewan Birney, Deputy Director General of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory, said: “Early evidence from genomic surveillance in South Africa suggests that B.1.1.529 is a serious cause. worrying”.

This strain has twice as many mutations as Delta’s, which has grown to world domination because it spreads so quickly.

Prof Sharon Peacock, Director of COG-UK Genomics UK Consortium, said early observations suggest this variant may “outperform Delta – the ‘best-match’ variant we’ve seen to date”. .

The concern, she said, is how quickly the cases have grown and the fact that the variant has so many mutations, some of which are unknown to scientists.

When did it first appear?

UK scientists learn of new strain for the first time on November 23

Samples were uploaded to a website that tracks coronavirus variants from South Africa, Hong Kong and later Botswana.

How many cases are there?

Less than 100 total cases have been detected so far in South Africa, Botswana and Hong Kong.

While there aren’t many cases yet, it’s the speed with which they develop that matters.

Are there any cases in the UK?

There are currently no UK cases, officials including Health Secretary Sajid Javid have confirmed.

But Dr Susan Hopkins, chief medical adviser at the UK’s Health Security Agency, said it was “always possible” that this variant made its way to the UK.

Asked on BBC Radio 4’s Today’s Today programme, if it would be in the UK, she said: “It’s always possible, we haven’t identified a case.”

Does it spread faster?

The scientists say that considering the situation in South Africa, this strain seems to spread faster than Delta – but is still inconclusive.

“The early indications we have about this variant is that it may be more transmissible than the Delta variant, and the vaccines we currently have may be less effective against it,” said Javid.

Dr Hopkins said the R rate in South Africa’s Gauteng province, where there is a lot of variation, has risen to 2.

She said it was “really quite high” and similar to what would be in the UK before the first lockdown in March 2020.

Professor James Naismith, director of the Rosalind Franklin Institute, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, that this variant “looks like it’s spreading faster but we don’t know that”.

Will the vaccine work against it?

It’s too early to tell, but experts fear it could weaken the vaccine’s effectiveness by up to 40%.

That estimate came from comparing it to the Beta variant, which originated in South Africa in December 2020 and has several antibody-evading mutations.

Professor Naismith, the new variant “almost certainly” will make Less effective vaccines.

Our scientists are extremely concerned about this variant

Sajid Javid Health Minister

Professor Neil Ferguson, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said: “Variation B.1.1.529 has an unprecedented number of mutations in the mutant protein gene, the type of protein. is the target of most vaccines.

“There is therefore a concern that this variant may be more likely to escape pre-immunity than previous variants.

“However, we still do not have reliable estimates of the extent to which B.1.1.529 may be more transmissible or more resistant to vaccines, so it is too early to make an assessment. evidence-based pricing of risk. postures. ”

Should we care?

Mr Javid said scientists were “deeply concerned” with this variant.
“That’s the most worrying thing,” said Dr Hopskins [variant] we have seen. ”

Prof Naismith said despite the “bad news” it was not “the end of the world” as the UK had better control of the virus.

Professor Francois Balloux, Professor of Computational Systems Biology and Director, UCL Institute of Genetics, UCL, said: “Scientists and politicians should try to keep a sane head, and I have can see no benefit for the UK public to be alarmed.”

How is it different from other variations?

Despite only being monitored for the past three days, the virus has been identified as present 50 different mutations, in which there are 30 types of spike protein.

By comparison, that’s more than double that of the Delta variant, which has become world-dominating.

Mutations are changes in the genetic makeup of a virus that cause it to behave differently. Sometimes the changes have no impact, but other times it gives the virus an advantage.

The mutations contain traits seen in all other variants but also features never seen before.

It has mutations K417N, E484A, N440K and S477N that are associated with mutations in strains previously able to avoid the vaccine.

It also has the N501Y mutation that makes the virus more contagious and was previously seen on the fast-spreading Alpha variant.

Is it classified as a “variant of interest”?

However, British scientists do not yet have enough evidence of how contagious it is, with some saying they are concerned.

It is known as a “variant being watched,” which means scientists believe it may pose a risk in the future, but its impact is unclear.

Professor Balloux believes it could be a “remarkable variant” according to the WHO over the weekend.

Where did it come from?

Experts say this variant may have developed in someone with a chronic illness.

This is how the Alpha variant, first seen in Kent in late 2020, is also suspected to have evolved.

Professor Ravi Gupta, professor of clinical microbiology at the University of Cambridge, said: “B.1.1.529 has signs of a cumulative mutation suggesting that it occurs in a chronic infection.”

When will we have more answers?

Scientists in the UK are looking forward to obtaining live samples of the virus so that it can be closely examined.

But this will take time, and it could be “several weeks” before we find out what impact it will have on a vaccine, Dr. Hopkins said.

It can take as little as seven to 10 days for the virus to grow enough that it can be shared with other scientists so they can study how it mutates and changes.

Officials will now also have to wait for data to arrive from South Africa.

The earliest they expect evidence to come out is two to three weeks, but it could be as long as four to six weeks.

Which countries are on the red list?

Flights from South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Botswana, Eswatini and Zimbabwe will be suspended from midday on Friday.

All six countries will be added to the red list.

People arriving from those countries from 4am on Sunday will have to quarantine at a government-approved hotel and quarantine for 10 days and take Covid PCR tests.

Before that, everyone had to isolate at home for 10 and take a PCR test.

From noon on Friday 26 November, non-UK and Irish nationals who have visited the country in the previous 10 days will be denied entry to the UK.

Read more about travel rules here.

UK chief medical officer Dr Susan Hopkins says the new variant is ‘most worrying’ given the Delta double mutation and could weaken vaccines

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