COVID-19 Vaccines and Variants: What’s Next?
March 22, 2021
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by Arabella Seebaluck

Vaccine inoculations have started across the world for COVID-19, but new variants which have spread across the world have raised questions about the vaccine and its effectiveness against it. Here’s what’s happening in different parts of the world.

United Kingdom
Researchers have found that a highly infectious variant of COVID-19 is 30-100% deadlier than previous dominant variants. The variant has spread around the world since it was first discovered in Britain late last year.
The new variant is called B.1.1.7 and was first detected in Britain in September 2020 and has since been detected in at least 100 countries. Scientists say that the new variant is 40%-7-% more transmissible than other dominant variants that are circulating and has 23 mutations in its genetic code, which is a high number.

The UK study was published in the British Medical Journal. It also said that the new variant led to 227 deaths in a sample of 54,906 COVID-19 patients. “Coupled with its ability to spread rapidly, this makes B.1.1.7 a threat that should be taken seriously,” said Robert Challen, a researcher at Exeter University who co-led the research.
Virologist and molecular oncology professor Lawrence Young said that the UK variant is fuelling a recent surge in infections across Europe.

According to a lab study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, vaccine from Pfizer and BioNTech SE was able to neutralise the new variant of COVID-19. Scientists have said the neutralizing ability was roughly equivalent the vaccine’s effect on a previous less contagious version of the virus from last year.

The Pfizer vaccine neutralised an engineered version of the P.1 variant which is highly contagious. The new variant has been the cause behind a surge in infections In Brazil. It has led to hospitals being overwhelmed in the country.  One city ran out of oxygen trying to provide care for the rising number of infected people.

South Africa
The South African variants have been found to be more aggressive. It carries the same mutation found in Brazil and UK and contains another mutation which means it is able to fight off vaccines. Scientists have said that the vaccines have been less effective against this variant, but it can be adjusted to fight off the variant.

What this means
Many now believe that more variants are likely to appear which will mean that people might need annual booster shots for Covid-19. Since immunity from the current vaccines lasts about six months, there is not a lot of clarity over whether the pandemic is nearing its end, or if it is here for the long haul.

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