The British variant of the new coronavirus is spreading in the UK and beyond. This could be responsible for 50% of infections in the Lisbon and Tagus Valley region in Portugal and, according to scientists, appears to be undergoing a new mutation.
Several tests on some samples show the mutation – called E484K – already detected in the strain of South Africa and Brazil. For now, British experts have found only a few cases, about a dozen.
The researchers, who show themselves concerned about new mutations, suggest that these changes may affect the effectiveness of the vaccine. However, they believe that the vaccines that are currently being used should work.
In the UK control measures have already been tightened to prevent transmission of the new variant and others, such as the South African one, which led to a massive testing campaign in some London neighborhoods and other parts of England. Restrictions on entry into the country were also introduced, measures that also affect those who link Portugal to the United Kingdom.
In 214 159 samples analyzed, specialists from Public Health England (English health institute) found 11 cases of the British variant with the E484K mutation.
Although they are concerned, scientists are not surprised by these results, since all viruses mutate.
However, is “a worrying development, although not entirely unexpected, ”says Julian Tang, a virus expert at the University of Leicester, speaking to the BBC.
The epidemiologist argues that it is necessary to continue to observe the sanitary measures to stop the spread of the virus, in order to reduce mutations.
Tang urged the population to respect the restrictions in force to stop the pandemic, since “Viruses not only spread, they also evolve” to adapt to the environment.
“Otherwise, the virus can not only continue to spread, it can also evolve,” warns Tang.
According to the BBC, some studies suggest that the E484K mutation may help the virus escape the action of antibodies. Moderna is one of the pharmaceutical companies that indicated, however, that the results of its vaccine indicate that the drug is still effective against variants with this mutation.
According to the Spanish news agency (Efe), the academic joins other experts who warn that the spread of this mutation within the variant detected in the United Kingdom may have a negative effect on the effectiveness of vaccines, as with variants detected in Brazil and South Africa, even though the current vaccines are able to offer a certain level of protection.
If it’s necessary, pharmaceutical companies can readjust the process development of vaccines, taking into account this new reality.
Today, several English towns are beginning to carry out home-based analyzes to detect and isolate positive cases of the variant originating in South Africa, given the evidence that is spreading among the population of the United Kingdom.
The British conservative government confirmed this initiative on Monday, after the first cases of this variant that were not directly related to trips to South Africa or other known positive cases were detected in different parts of the country.
Ana Moura, ZAP // Lusa