A Comment about SARS-CoV-2 B.1.1.7 variant, spreading quickly in the UK.
The newly identified variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus this variant — known as B.1.1.7 (also called VUI-202012/01, for the first “variant under investigation” in December 2020)— appears to be more contagious than established ones. Some good news, though, the new coronavirus variant found in the UK is unlikely to impact the efficacy of the main vaccines.
This variant B.1.1.7 has accumulated 23 distinct mutations several B.1.1.7 mutations looked as if they could potentially affect how the virus spread. Indeed, some of these mutations are in the “Spike” protein, which is being used for vaccines. However, given our current knowledge, the current main vaccines will be effective against all known coronavirus variant including B.1.1.7.
The new type of vaccines (mRNA) is also much easier to “upgrade” should we see a new future variant escape the vaccinal shield in the future. Indeed, the mRNA vaccines are only “recipes” given to the human body to help him produce the appropriate immune response. To modify these “recipes” is literally doing some edits in a text.
Patrick Vallance, the UK’s chief scientific adviser, said the new variant may be in other countries as well but might have started in the UK. Variants emerge constantly, but most mutations that arise in the coronavirus are either harmful to the virus or have no effect one way or another. Mutations detected in variant B.1.1.7, affect how the virus spread. One of the hypothesis to explain this fact is that this strain may infect more efficiently children, that in turn become asymptomatic spreaders.
It is likely that this new variant appeared in the UK first and was detected pretty quickly thanks to the decisive work of COVID-19 Genomics Consortium UK (CoG-UK). More variants are likely to appear with time and it will remain critically important to detect and sequence them as they emerge. It is likely that the B.1.1.7 is already circulating on all populated continents. Viruses do not know the concept of borders and travel quickly using their human hosts. What we are facing now is a worldwide speed race, the virus accelerating its capacity to spread at the same time as humanity starts vaccination.
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