Infectious Disease

What do we all know to this point in regards to the SARS-CoV-2 variant in Nice Britain?

December 23, 2020

2 min read

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Disclosure:
Kuppalli reports that he is a consultant for GlaxoSmithKline, but not in the vaccines area. Sahin is co-founder of BioNTech.

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There is a lot to learn about the new variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that has been identified in the UK, an infectious disease expert told Healio Primary Care.

“It appears that this new variant is more transferable, although more information can be learned about its full effects.” Krutika Kuppalli, MD, An assistant professor of medicine in the Department of Infectious Diseases at the Medical University of South Carolina and vice chairman of the Global Health Committee of the Infectious Diseases Society of America told Healio Primary Care.

The BBC reported on Dec. 22 that the variant doesn’t appear to be any more deadly than its predecessors. The news agency also quoted Ugur SahinThe co-founder of BioNTech, who worked with Pfizer to develop the first FDA-cleared COVID-19 vaccine, said a vaccine that could kill the new SARS-CoV-2 strain if needed could be available within 6 weeks.

While the CDC is monitoring the situation in the UK, Healio Primary Care asked Kuppalli, who is also an emerging leader in the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security’s biosecurity fellowship program, to provide more information on this new strain of virus that causes COVID -19.

Q: What do we know so far about this new variant of the novel coronavirus?

A: Genomic data in the UK identified a new variant called B.1.1.7 or VUI-202012/01. It has acquired 17 mutations that are on the gene that codes for the spike protein on the surface of SARS-CoV-2. This is how the virus binds and enters the cells. We don’t yet know how these mutations work in full, but in the past few weeks the number of COVID-19 cases has been increasing rapidly in parts of England.

Q: Is this how coronaviruses are known to change, and if so, could there be other undetected variants?

A: Yes, the coronavirus is an RNA virus and they have been known to develop mutations over time. There might be other variations, but there are programs that test a percentage of positive SARS-CoV-2 samples to detect such things. We saw other variants during this epidemic as well.

Q: Is there any evidence that the COVID-19 vaccines already developed and approved are less effective?

A: Not at the moment. Currently, it appears that the vaccines should continue to be effective against the SARS-CoV-2 virus. However, it is possible that this could happen over years and with the accumulation of many other mutations. It will be important to investigate cases of COVID-19 that appear in people who have previously had the disease and in people who develop a disease who are vaccinated.

Q: Will the variant change our current approach to reducing transmission?

A: We need to step up our approaches to reduce transmission through physical distancing, wearing masks, good hand hygiene, and avoiding crowds. We need to decrease the overall SARS-CoV-2 community and decrease the amount of circulating virus that can mutate.

Q: What is your advice for doctors to tell their patients about the variant?

A: While developing this variant is significant, we still have a lot to learn. Right now it is important that individuals be vigilant to protect themselves and their loved ones from the coronavirus so that we can lower the overall rate of this disease in the community.

References

BBC. Coronavirus: The EU is trying to negotiate a response to the new British strain. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-55404087. Accessed December 22, 2020.

CDC. New variant of the virus that caused COVID-19 has been detected. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/transmission/variant.html. Accessed December 22, 2020.

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