New COVID-19 strains: Are vaccines working? All you need to know

Health Tips

covidThe UK strain, named B.1.1.7, also known as the “UK variant” or “Kent variant”, has spread to more than 50 countries.So far, three new variants of Coronavirus have been identified by the scientists including one from the UK, one from Brazil and one from South Africa. The World Health Organisation pointed out that these variants are one of the most contagious variants of COVID-19. There have been several questions on the strains that may render existing vaccines useless or lower the efficiency of antibody protection, considering the strains spread rapidly when compared to the ones that were transmitted at the beginning of this pandemic.

The UK strain, named B.1.1.7, also known as the “UK variant” or “Kent variant”, has spread to more than 50 countries and the virus is likely to “sweep the world,” as per a scientist in the UK. Last month, according to a report by The Indian Express, the UK’s New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NERVTAG) indicated that the new strain has become dominant in most parts of the UK. The expert group noted the possibility of an increase in the severity of disease associated with B.1.1.7. variant. Also, another cause of worry can be attributed to E484K mutation in samples of the Kent variant. This was first found in the South African variant.

However, there is no such evidence that says this mutation alone will be able to cause more severe illness or greater transmissibility, the report said. Citing Dr Susan Hopkins, COVID-19 Strategic Response Director at PHE, the report said that the vaccines will still prevent severe illness and deaths from COVID-19. But public health action is still a must when it comes to reducing the risk of spread in the population.

Meanwhile in India, cases of infection with the UK variant have been reported, albeit the number is quite low. Last month, after genome sequencing, the Health Ministry announced the presence of 165 samples for the UK variant.

It is to note that the vaccine Covaxin, developed by Bharat Biotech and ICMR, according to the report, can work against the new UK variant. It added that the UK strain was one of the main reasons that Bharat Biotech’s vaccine received restricted emergency use approval in India in the first place based on the safety and immunogenicity data from phase 1 and 2 trials. The researchers highlighted that the study done suggests “comparable neutralisation activity of vaccinated individuals’ sera against the variant as well as heterologous SARS-CoV-2 strains.” Also, sera from the vaccine recipients will be able to neutralise the UK-variant strains. The Serum Institute’s Covishield has also been found effective against the UK variant.

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