The variant of coronavirus first recorded in southeast England is likely to “sweep the world” and become the most dominant global strain, said the head of the genetic surveillance program of the United Kingdom, as fears are mounting about new virus mutations.
The B.1.1.7 version has spread to more than 50 countries since it was discovered in September in Kent, a county known as the “Garden of England” and popular with commuters because of its proximity to London.
It can be up to 70% more contagious and about 30% more deadly than other versions, experts have said.
The Kent version was now on track to “sweep the world, in all probability,” Sharon Peacock, director of the COVID-19 Genomics UK Consortium, told the BBC on Thursday, Feb. 11, having ripped through the UK and rippled outward.
She also cautioned that while CCP Virus [COVID-19] vaccines have proved to be successful against the B.1.1.7 variant and other virus strains found in the United Kingdom to date, additional mutations may theoretically weaken the shots.
“What’s concerning about this is that the 1.1.7 variant that we have had circulating for some weeks and months is beginning to mutate again and get new mutations, which could affect the way that we handle the virus in terms of immunity and effectiveness of vaccines,” Peacock said.
“It’s concerning that the 1.1.7, which is more transmissible, which has swept the country, is now mutating to have this new mutation that could threaten vaccination,” she added.
Fresh ‘Variant of Concern’ found in England
The latest mutation referred to by Peacock, first detected in Bristol, in southwest England, has since been designated by the New and Evolving Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group of the UK as a “Variant of Concern.”
So far, there are 21 instances of this variant, which has a mutation known as E484K. Scientists suspect that the E484K mutation helps the coronavirus evade antibodies, possibly reducing the potency of vaccines.
“One has to be a realist that this particular mutation has arisen in our kind of communal garden lineage now, at least five times—five separate times. And so this is going to keep popping up,” said Peacock.
Since the pandemic exploded in December 2019, the CCP Virus has infected more than 2.3 million individuals and turned everyday life upside down for billions.
The UK has reported almost 4 million cases and more than 115,000 have died, one of the largest death tolls in the world.