U.K. Covid Strain Gets Mutation That Raises Vaccine Concern
(Bloomberg) -- The U.K. coronavirus strain that’s sparked concern around the globe has picked up another mutation that appears to make the virus more resistant to vaccines.
Scientists have identified the mutation on 11 different sequences of the new strain, Public Health England said in an updated report Monday. The findings came from a data set of more than 200,000 sequences.
The mutation is present in the variants that arose in South Africa and Brazil, and is thought to help the virus resist vaccines and antibody therapies -- and infect people who already fought off Covid.
The change is “a worrying development,” Julian Tang, a professor and clinical virologist at the University of Leicester, said in remarks on the U.K.’s Science Media Centre. The “reassurances from recent studies showing that the mRNA vaccines will still offer optimum protection against the original U.K. variant may no longer apply.”
It’s unclear whether the mutation occurred on its own or after a process of recombination with one of the South African or Brazilian variants, a process common with influenza viruses but not with coronaviruses, according to Tang.
The fact that the mutation arose on British soil suggests that travel curbs to limit the movement of people from South Africa may not be enough, according to Sam Fazeli, an analyst with Bloomberg Intelligence. Instead, there’s a growing need for vaccine makers to design updates to their shots that target the new strains.
Last week, Johnson & Johnson and Novavax Inc. both announced results from late-stage clinical trials that showed that their respective vaccines were somewhat less effective in South Africa.
The rise of new coronavirus strains has prompted calls for vaccinating people more quickly before mutations become widespread. Drugmakers say they’re working on booster shots that could enhance the potency of their vaccines against the new mutations.
The disclosure of the new mutation comes as the virus is in overall retreat across the U.K., which on Monday reported the lowest number of new daily cases since December.
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