The new COVID-19 variants: Everything you need to know
SARS-CoV-2 (aka the novel coronavirus or COVID-19) has caused enough havoc in the world as it is, so news about new variants of the disease was alarming, to say the least. What exactly is the new variant? What has its impact on society been? And most importantly, will the recently developed vaccine protect us from it? Find out the answer to these pressing questions in this Pacific Prime UK article.
New variants of the SARS-Cov-2 virus
Viruses are known to reproduce very rapidly. To do so, they introduce their genetic material into the cells of their host, where it’s copied. Errors occurred during the copying process can result in small changes in the genetic material – in other words, a virus mutation. All viruses naturally mutate over time, and things are no different with the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
There are a few different variants of the SARS-Cov-2 virus, named based on where they’ve been discovered:
- UK variant
- South African variant
- Brazil variant (Detected in Brazillian travellers in Japan)
A big issue regarding the new variants is that they are potentially more transmissible, which means it’s easier for an infected person to spread the virus to a non-infected person. Although there isn’t yet clear data on exactly how transmissible the new variants are, experts believe it to be anywhere between 30% and 80% more than the original strain.
Simply put, the virus being more transmissible means that more people will be infected. What’s more, with more people infected out there, the chances of a non-infected person interacting with an infected person is higher, which increases the risk of transmission. Nevertheless, there aren’t any major changes in how people should be conducting themselves.
You should protect yourself by:
- Washing your hands regularly (or using hand sanitiser)
- Putting on a face covering when in a confined setting
- Keeping at least 2 metres apart when around other people
Impact of the new variant on the UK and the rest of the world
The UK announced a new lockdown for England and Scotland, which is expected to last until mid-February. P.M. Boris Johnson has said that the new SAR-CoV-2 variant has been “both frustrating and alarming”, and that hospitals were under “more pressure from COVID-19 than at any time since the start of the pandemic”. As such, people are urged to stay at home, except for essential reasons.
In addition to this, the UK brought on new travel rules, requiring passengers to test negative for COVID-19 before arrival and suspending all travel corridors, which has previously enabled arrivals from certain low-risk countries to avoid quarantine in the UK. Similarly, the new variant in the UK prompted other countries to shut their borders to UK travellers. With that said, the new variant from the UK has already been reported in 55 countries.
Vaccine effectiveness on new variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus
According to research from the Rockefeller University, although the new variants were able to evade some of the immunity induced by vaccination, this wasn’t a complete escape and there’s evidence that the current vaccines will work on the new variants. The researchers discovered this by conducting tests on 20 people who got two doses of either the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine.
Those who received the vaccines produced strong antibody response, as well as cells that produced new antibodies for months or years. Their plasmas were then taken and measured against the variants. Dr. Michel Nussenzweig, team lead for this research, said: “When you start putting all these mixtures of antibodies together, what it means is that together they can take care of the variants.”
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