Another Covid variant that could dodge vaccine-triggered immunity has been identified in the UK, scientists say.
The strain — called B.1.525 — has been spotted 33 times already but experts say this could be an underestimate. It carries the E484K mutation found on both the South African and Brazilian variants, which make the current crop of jabs slightly less effective.
The B.1.525 variant was first detected in Britain in mid-December — but this doesn’t mean it evolved here. The UK does far more sequencing than other countries. It has already spread to 11 countries including the US, Canada and Denmark, which are not on the UK’s ‘red list’.
It has been linked to travel to Nigeria, where 12 out of 51 virus samples analysed — or 24 per cent — were the new variant. For comparison, the UK has only found it in 33 of 70,000 genomes sequenced, or less than 0.4 per cent.
The discovery will likely spark fears Britain’s lockdown restrictions could be delayed. Boris Johnson — who is set to unveil his ‘roadmap’ out of lockdown next Monday —last week refused to rule out extending measures if the South African virus kept on spreading. His comments came after an alarming study claimed Oxford University’s vaccine may not stop people falling ill with the mutant strain.
But although some genetic changes have been found to make vaccines slightly less effective, experts say everyone should still get vaccinated because the jabs should prevent serious illness and death from the disease — even if they don’t stop people developing symptoms.
Britain has identified several Covid variants since the pandemic began, including the more infectious Kent lineage — called B.1.1.7 — which is the dominant strain.
The South African variant — B.1.351 — has also been found, sparking mass testing in dozens of areas to prevent larger outbreaks. Other troublesome strains have also been spotted in Bristol and Liverpool.
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