Vaccines may be ineffective against a new type of COVID that UK scientists are “extremely concerned about,” says a health secretary.
Sajid Javid said B.1.1.529 could also be contagious and he said travel bans from six African countries as a protection.
Here is what we know so far.
How does this change affect you?
It contains 32 protein mutations, which means that the current vaccine may not be effective in providing protection.
Spike proteins are what viruses use to invade human cells, and some of these vaccines work by training the body to recognize and control spikes.
Changes to the spike can be complex.
Sajid Javid said “it may be twice the number of changes we have seen in the Delta states”.
Dr Tom Peacock, a virologist at Imperial College London, said the changes were “very serious”.
Another expert, Tulio de Oliveira, of the Network for Genomic Surveillance in South Africa, acknowledged that the “constellation” of mutations is a “predicted concern that the immune system can be protected and spread”.
It is unknown at this time what he will do after leaving the post.
Epidemiologist pathologist Professor Neil Ferguson said B.1.1.529 is relevant but there is no “definite evidence of the risk” – as it could lead to a vaccine crisis.
Are there any cases found in the UK?
No – the good news is that only a handful of people have been found around the world and Dr Peacock emphasized that cases here are “very low”.
So far, three have been found in Botswana, 53 in South Africa and one in Hong Kong – one from South Africa.
Scientists believe it could exist and the UK has taken urgent action to try to stop any spread.
Also banning travel from six countries – South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Botswana, Swatini and Zimbabwe – people arriving from there in the last 10 days are being asked to undergo PCR testing.
It is important to note that it is rare for viruses to mutate, and they can often be fatal.
How did this change come about?
It was found in the rapid increase in COVID cases in South Africa last week.
It rose to 1,200 on Wednesday and 2,465 on Thursday, previously more than 200 per day.
The first operation was in and around Pretoria, said South African Health Minister Joe Phaahla, and a panel of student law firms.
Scientists studied how genomics interacted with these new cases and found differences.
Most importantly, they are now looking at the maximum number of operations with the new version of B.1.1.529.
Scientists from seven South African universities study and have 100 complete genomes. They also claim that variability is detected using PCR tests.
What does the World Health Organization say?
It placed one of its eight monitored controls (VUM) Wednesday, indicating it could be at risk for the future.
His technical team is meeting again on Friday to discuss the latest developments.
The WHO may decide to upgrade it (VOC) – in line with the Delta, which means it has “universal health needs” – and provide advice to member states.
It can also be classified as VOI, which indicates for example that it may affect the spread or risk of infection.
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