Kent variant has developed E484K strain says expert
The UK is one of several nations which have reported a local variant of the base Covid virus. Many of these have proven more infective than their predecessor, and in one case more deadly. Researchers have now discovered a new mutation within the UK’s household variant, triggering concerns.
Will the new Covid mutation make the UK variant more deadly?
Scientists fear the UK’s variant, which was discovered in Kent last year, is now adopting some qualities already seen in the Brazil and South Africa Covid versions.
Public Health England (PHE) found the E484K mutation in 11 sequences of the British B117 variant.
The variant manipulates the virus’s biology via the spike protein – a structure which allows it to enter human cells – and disguises it more effectively.
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Virus variants equipped with these mutations would slip past the immune system’s defences easier, potentially threatening vaccine efficacy.
E484K has already modified the South African and Brazilian variants, and scientists have branded it “of most concern”.
They have not disclosed whether the mutation makes viruses more deadly.
They have, however, found the British variant – few cases of which have the mutation – is the deadliest.
The core concern from scientists is that the virus could bypass defences provided by the vaccine.
E484K could provide the virus with a window into the immune system by evading antibodies, which the vaccines help create.
But early results from vaccine developers suggest the mutation shouldn’t blunt its effectiveness.
Moderna, which has already rolled out a vaccine, and rival companies Novavax and Janssen, have found their candidates provide some resistance to the mutation.
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Experts haven’t ruled out the possibility variants could one day outwit currently available science.
If this became the case, scientists still have some recourse in modifying what they already have.
The identified variants have followed the same mutation path, meaning future vaccine boosters may be able to exploit a common vulnerability and mitigate the virus’s impact.
Scientists around the world have already championed the booster approach to dealing with the mutations.
Among them is Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the US-based director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
He said in a press conference: “The long-range goal would be to get a vaccine that would be good against all coronaviruses.
“But I think the first goal you want is to get a vaccine that’s upgraded enough that whatever mutation occurs with the current SARS-CoV-2 will be covered by the vaccine.
“That’s the ultimate solution. You don’t even need a pan-coronavirus one — you need a pan-SARS-CoV-2 vaccine first, because that’s the one that continues to mutate. We’re going to be upgrading them to better match the mutants.”
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