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Mutated Covid strain that is ‘spreading fast’ across UK – does the vaccine stop it?

Dr Amir Khan discusses ‘new strain’ of Coronavirus

More than 1,000 news cases of the variant have been found so far, with Matt Hancock telling the House of Commons the bulk of new cases are “predominantly in the south of England”. The new strain is spreading faster than the existing Covid virus and is believed to be behind the “very sharp, exponential rises” in cases across the South East and London. So far, the strain has been found in 60 local authority areas and is thought to be similar to the mutation discovered in other countries in recent months.

The new mutated strain was first identified in Kent last week during routine surveillance by Public Health England (PHE) before ministers were told on Friday.

Speaking at a Downing Street news briefing, chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty said the new strain will still appear on Covid tests and isn’t “more dangerous” than the existing strain circulating.

Mr Hancock said Government scientists are studying the new variant at its Portion Down Facility and that it has informed the World Health Organisation (WHO) about its findings.

WHO’s top emergency expert Mike Ryan said of the new strain: “Authorities are looking at its significance. We have seen many variants, this virus evolves and changes over time.”

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Does the vaccine stop the new strain?

So far, experts have not found any variants, including the new strain, that could reduce the effectiveness of the newly discovered vaccine.

Mr Hancock said there is currently no evidence to show the new variant will not respond to the vaccine.

The Health Secretary told MPs: “I must stress at this point there is currently nothing to suggest that this variant is more likely to cause serious disease.

“And the latest clinical advice is that it’s highly unlikely this mutation would fail to respond to a vaccine.”

Professor Whitty said while it was possible the efficacy of the vaccine would be affected with this new strain, it would be “surprising”.

Dr Bharat Pankhania, senior clinical lecturer at the University of Exeter, said he is “very confident that we won’t have to refashion our vaccines” because of the new strain.

He did, however, warn the fast rate of the new spread could mean this variant becomes the most dominant nationwide.

The Professor explained: “The best way to describe it is, imagine a giant oak tree, and then a little branch that breaks off from that tree.

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“Then that branch becomes the main trunk and the main artery of that same tree.”

Researcher at the University of Bologna, Federico Giorgi explained how the vaccine could be effective against a number of strains of the Covid virus.

He said: “The SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus is presumably already optimised to affect human beings, and this explains its low evolutionary change.

“This means that the treatments we are developing, including a vaccine, might be effective against all the virus strains.”

While a number of experts are sure the vaccine won’t be affected, University College of London Genetics Institute Researcher Lucy van Dorp is still advising people remain “vigilant” and continue to monitor any new strains.

The most effective way of making sure the virus doesn’t affect the vaccine is to stop infections spreading and reduce the chances of it mutating.

Epidemiologist Catherine Bennett said: “If the virus changes substantially, particularly the spike proteins, then it might escape a vaccine.

“We want to slow transmission globally to slow the clock. That reduces the chances of a change that is awful news for us.”

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