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COVID-19: Kent strain a threat, may “sweep the world”, says expert

COVID-19: Kent strain a threat, may “sweep the world”, says expert

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Virendra Pandit

 New Delhi: Amid the ongoing mass vaccination against coronavirus pandemic in many countries, a British expert has warned that the recent variant first found in the British area of Kent is a threat and is likely to “sweep the world, in all probability.”

The variant could remain effective for the next 10 years.

The warning came a year after the outbreak of the pandemic which spread fast across the globe in the spring season of 2020. It has so far claimed more than 2.3 million lives and infected many more.

Sharon Peacock, Director of the COVID-19 Genomics UK consortium, said the vaccines being used so far were effective against the variants in the United Kingdom, but that mutations could potentially undermine the shots, according to media reports.

Peacock, who heads the United Kingdom’s genetic surveillance program, said the Kent variant (1.1.7.) could undermine the protection provided by vaccines. “The variant was dominant in the country and was likely “to sweep the world, in all probability”, she said, adding this strain could remain around for 10 years.

Apart from killing 2.35 million people worldwide in a year, damaging economies, and turning normal life upside down for billions, the new variants, out of thousands of mutants, have scared health professionals that vaccines will have to be tweaked and people may require booster shots.

“What’s concerning about this is that the 1.1.7 variant that we have had circulating for some weeks and months is beginning to mutate again and get new mutations which could affect the way that we handle the virus in terms of immunity and effectiveness of vaccines,” Peacock told a media outlet.

“It’s concerning that the 1.1.7., which is more transmissible, which has swept the country, is now mutating to have this new mutation that could threaten vaccination.”

That new mutation, first identified in Bristol in southwest England, has been designated a “Variant of Concern”, by the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group.

So far, 21 cases of that variant which has E484K mutation, which occurs on the spike protein of the virus, the same change as has been seen in the South African and Brazilian variants.

“One has to be a realist that this particular mutation has arisen in our kind of communal garden lineage now, at least five times – five separate times. And so this is going to keep popping up,” Peacock said.

There are three major known variants that are worrying scientists: The South African variant (20I/501Y.V2 or B.1.351), the so-called UK or Kent variant (20I/501Y.V1 or B.1.1.7); and the Brazilian variant known as P.1.

The British variant, which is more infectious but not necessarily more deadly than others, was likely “to sweep the world”, Peacock said.

“Once we get on top of (the virus) or it mutates itself out of being virulent – causing disease – then we can stop worrying about it. But I think, looking in the future, we’re going to be doing this for years. We’re still going to be doing this 10 years down the line, in my view.”

The two COVID-19 vaccines developed by Pfizer/BioNTech and AstraZeneca protect against the main British variant.

 

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