Boris Johnson: UK Covid-19 variant may be more lethal than others

Boris Johnson: UK Covid-19 variant may be more lethal than others
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Prime Minister Boris Johnson says the new Covid-19 variant first detected in the UK may be deadlier than previous strains.

Speaking about the new UK Covid-19 variant at a news conference, Prime Minister Johnson said: “We’ve been informed that in addition to spreading more quickly… there is some evidence that the new variant… may be more associated with a higher degree of mortality.”

However, he added: “Both the vaccines we’re currently using remain effective both against the old variant and this new variant.”

UK variant more lethal

UK’s chief scientific adviser, Patrick Vallance, discussed what Johnson said.

According to Vallance, patients who were hospitalized with the new variant did not appear to have a higher risk of dying in comparison to patients hospitalized with the original form of the virus.

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“However, when data are looked at in terms of… anyone who has tested positive there is evidence that there is an increased risk for those who have the new variant compared to the old [one,]” Vallance explained.

But he pointed out that the evidence is weak and the data needs more certainty.

He said: “If you took… a man in their 60s, the average risk is that for 1,000 people who got infected, roughly 10 would be expected to unfortunately die with the virus. With the new variant, for 1,000 people infected, roughly 13 or 14 people might be expected to die.”

“That’s the sort of change for that sort of age group, an increase from 10 to 13 or 14 out of 1,000 and you will see that across the different age groups as well, a similar sort of relative increase in the risk,” Vallance added.

The country’s chief scientific adviser also noted that there was “increasing evidence” that the existing Covid-19 vaccines would be effective against the UK strain but they are more cautious about the variants detected in Brazil and South Africa.

“We are more concerned that they have certain features which means they might be less susceptible to vaccines,” Vallance said but mentioned that researchers needed “more clinical information” about the variants.

Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine effective vs UK strain

Studies have found Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine effective against Covid variant found in UK.

Known as B.1.1.7., it features a high number of mutations and is considered highly transmissible.

However, a study published on preprint server bioRxiv revealed that “no biologically significant difference in neutralization activity” between the scientific tests on B.1.1.7 and the original strain of the virus.

Findings showed that all of the mutations linked to the new variant were neutralized by antibodies among 16 participants who had previously taken the vaccine.

In an interview with CNBC, Dr. Ugur Sahin, co-founder and CEO of BioNTech, said they are optimistic that their vaccine would manifest an immune response against B.1.1.7.

Sahin added that the vaccine must also fight a variant detected in South Africa — another highly transmissible variant that has worried public health experts.

Meanwhile, Moderna and AstraZeneca, which made a coronavirus vaccine in partnership with the University of Oxford, previously announced that they expect their products to be able to fight B.1.1.7.

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