Seasonal flu mutates so often that scientists have to regularly develop new vaccines to inoculate people against the virus each year. British officials have told the WHO that Covid-19 vaccines appear to be just as effective against the new strain, but more research is needed. While all viruses mutate naturally, not all mutations make a virus more contagious or more virulent.
“SARS-CoV-2 mutates at a much slower rate than influenza,” WHO chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan told a press briefing. “And so far, although we have seen a number of changes and mutations, none have had a significant impact on the susceptibility of the virus to any of the therapeutic agents, drugs or vaccines in development. currently in use, and it is hoped that this will continue to be the case. ”
WHO officials reiterated that UK officials have said the new variant could be up to 70% more transmissible than the original strain of the virus. Dr Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO health emergency program, said it was not clear whether the increased spread in the UK was due to mutation or human behavior.
“We have seen an estimate of a small increase in breeding numbers by the UK,” he said, meaning the virus is spreading faster, which could mean it’s more contagious or spreads more easily during the colder months. It could also mean that people are becoming lax about following public health protocols. “It remains to be seen to what extent this is due to the specific genetic change of the new variant. I suspect some. ”
Maria Van Kerkhove, head of the WHO’s Emerging Diseases and Zoonoses Unit, said UK officials believe the mutation caused the virus’s reproduction rate to increase from 1.1 to 1.5. This means that each person infected with the variant is estimated to infect 1.5 other people, compared to 1.1 when infected with the original variant.
She added that officials are investigating three elements of the new variant. She said scientists were looking to find out if it spreads more easily, if it causes more or less severe disease and how the antibody responds to infection. Van Kerkhove and others have pointed out that there does not appear to be an impact on the effectiveness of the Covid vaccines on the new variant.