Kent variant ‘concerning’ says Neil Ferguson
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Professor Ferguson, former scientific advisor to the Government and who was a key figure in the UK’s Covid response, warned the new “Bristol” variant could affect the speed in which he country reopens. While infection figures are small, much like other strains including the South African mutation, he warns its ability to resist immunity attempts could be “problematic” for the UK’s vaccination programme. The “Bristol” variant is a mutation of the “Kent” variant and has an E484K mutation which edits the proteins used to get into human cells and therefore is harder for the immune system to recognise and fight.
Speaking to Sophy Ridge on Sky News, the presenter asked Professor Ferguson: “NERVTAG has said that this mutation of the Kent variant found in Bristol they have described it as a concern, how worried should we be?”
The Professor replied: “I think it is concerning, the key difference between this variant in Bristol and the new variant we have been dealing with for the past few months is a mutation called E484k.
“Which is probably the difference between our new variant and South Africa’s in terms of allowing the virus to partially escape immunity and that’s the concern.
“So it’s as transmissible as the new variant that we’ve been dealing with but (it) has this one additional mutation which may affect how vaccines are at protecting people.
“(It) probably doesn’t have any effect on transmissibility or severity but the key issue is if this new virus, this new variant of concern, can even partially escape immunity it makes control going forward more problematic.”
Sophy Ridge then asked if the new variant could lead to a new lockdown and new measures to ensure it is kept under control.
Prof Ferguson added: “Certainly I support the intensive testing measures put in place in Bristol which are trying to detect as high of a proportion of people who are carrying this variant of concern and isolating them, and therefore driving down its prevalence.
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“As to ‘does it require lockdown to be put in place for longer’ the one good thing at the moment is that in all areas of the country and for all variants the case numbers seem to be dropping.
“But relaxing does post new challenges for new variants, even variants which may partially escape immunity.”
The New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group, or NERVTAG, has been studying two mutations of coronavirus located in Liverpool and Bristol.
The Bristol research, published on February 9, warned the mutation was a “cause for concern”.
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It joins four other “cause for concern” variants: Kent, Japan, South Africa and the Brazil variants.
Data from Public Health England says that there are 63 confirmed cases of the Liverpool and Bristol strains.
While the E484K mutation may not make vaccines completely null and void it is expected to have an effect on the efficacy of the jabs.
The South African strain contains the E484K mutation and the same vaccines rolled out in South Africa and the UK have different efficacy rates, with some scientists concluding the mutation will have an effect on vaccination success.
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