One of the challenges with fighting the flu, even though we have immunizations against it, is that there are so many strains. While the immunizations given out for the flu each year may target one specific strain, the prevalent strain each year could be completely different. Medical personnel fighting the coronavirus pandemic worldwide are facing a similar problem with COVID-19, with more than one strain of the virus. A new one has been discovered in 13 countries.
Researchers from the University of Edinburg have dubbed the new variant of the coronavirus as B.1.525, noting that it has a mutation in the virus’s spike protein that allows it to bind to and enter human cells. The new variant has been detected in the UK, Nigeria, and 11 other countries.
Scientists are concerned that with the mutation, which is known as E484K, current vaccines could be less effective against the new variant of the virus. Researchers believe the mutation will help the virus evade neutralizing antibodies that bind the virus and prevent keep it from infecting cells inside the body. University of Reading associate professor of cellular microbiology, Simon Clarke, has said the E484K mutation does make the South African variant of coronavirus resistant to some vaccines.
Clarke is concerned the new variant might also be somewhat resistant to current vaccines. Clarke has said that scientists don’t yet know how well the new variant will spread. However, if it is successful in spreading, presumably immunity from any vaccine or previous infection will be less effective.
Medical professionals do say there is no evidence that the new mutation will cause more severe illness or increased transmission of the new strain. As of this week, 46 cases of the new version of the infection had been confirmed via gene sequencing in the UK. The first instances of the new variant were detected in Nigeria last December.