With 2020 approaching its end, the world is pinning its hope on the COVID vaccines for the near end of this ferocious pandemic. But the new variant of coronavirus vaccine emerging from the United Kingdom is stressing the world out.
So, what all do we know about this new variant? How is this different from the previously spread COVID virus? Are the vaccines effective on it? And how far has it spread?
The new more contagious variant coronavirus
The new variant, dubbed VUI-202012/01 have created huge concern all around the world. The United Kingdom’s Department of Health and Social Care has called for an emergency meeting of its monitoring group in the wake of the new contagious SARS-COV-2. World Health Organisation, on Saturday, tweeted that they are working along the UK government to know more about the mutated virus.
Ever since the first virus infection found in Wuhan, SARS-CoV-2 has spread like a forest fire; in today’s date, it has infected more than 76million people globally. During this period, the virus has mutated several times. Dr Julian Tang, Clinical Virologist from the University of Leicester says; “This is quite normal for viruses — like influenza — where different viruses may infect the same person, leading to a hybrid virus emerging. This is just one of the ways that natural viral variation arises”.
In the early February, D614G mutation, also emerged from the European continent, which now is the most dominant variant of SARS-COV-2 globally.
But what makes this variant more concerning is that; according to preliminary genomic characterisation, B.1.1.7 have abnormally huge genetic changes. The new strain shows a high spike in protein, which decides how the virus will interconnect with the body cells.
This highly mutated virus has most likely emerged from some patients who had an immensely weak immune system. The virus must have found a proper environment in the host body for further mutation. And from that patient, it would have spread to others and now it is in the news.
The new variant is said to be 70% more infectious than the original coronavirus. On Sunday, Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary said that the virus “was out of control”
Is the new coronavirus variant spreading fast?
This new variant was first discovered in September. About one-fourth of the infection cases in London were from the new variant. In the second week of December, more than 62% of cases were infected by B.1.1.7 (code name of the new lineage). 28% were infected by this virus in the last 3 weeks of November.
According to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the new variant is about 70% more contagious than the one that emerged from Wuhan. The 70% more transmissible data was also presented by Dr Erik Volz, Imperial College London.
Starting from the UK, the virus with the same genetic code was found in the samples of infected patients in Denmark, Australia and South Africa.
The increasing infections and information about the new coronavirus have forced many countries to impose travel restriction on the UK, and many countries have forbidden flights from the UK in their countries.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock says in the House of Commons; “We do not know the extent to which this is because of the new variant but no matter its cause we have to take swift and decisive action which unfortunately is absolutely essential to control this deadly disease while the vaccine is rolled out.”
The UK government have been alarmed after since; holiday celebrations, is also greatly affected in the United Kingdoms, bubbles sizes have been decreased and the government have strictly advised people to stay at home.
Will the COVID vaccines work on this mutation?
One question that is but obvious to rise is; Will the COVID vaccines, developed by different companies globally; be effective on this virus mutation? The good news is, experts are almost certain that it would. Professor David Robertson, University of Glasgow, on Friday in his presentation over this newly mutated virus concluded; “The virus will probably be able to generate vaccine escape mutants.”
Vaccines contain the genetic code of the virus, which guides the immune system in battling and defeating the virus. This virus shows some spikes of proteins, which is still in the capacity of the prepared vaccines. According to researchers, it would be tough for the virus to escape the vaccine. Also Chief Medical Officer of England, Prof Chris Whitty; confirmed that the new variant is completely detectable by the swab tests.
Professor Ravi Gupta, University of Cambridge says; “But if we let it add more mutations, then you start worrying. This virus is potentially on a pathway for vaccine escape, it has taken the first couple of steps towards that”.
But the positive side is, vaccinations have started, and now it seems like the pandemic has come to a head.