The emergency of a new coronavirus strain has raised loud alarms in the United Kingdom. This coronavirus strain has caused COVID-19 cases to spike in the UK, forcing parts of the country to go into their strictest lockdown yet. The mutant strain, dubbed VUI - 202012/01, also known as lineage B.1.1.7, has higher transmissibility than earlier strains of the coronavirus, according to scientists.
With this mutant coronavirus strain bursting on to the scene, the most important question that has been raised is that -will the existing COVID-19 vaccines work against this new mutation of the coronavirus?
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has assured that there is no evidence which suggests that the COVID-19 vaccines will be less effective against the new coronavirus strain. Britain's Chief Scientific Adviser Patrick Vallance has backed the PM's assurance saying that the COVID-19 vaccines appeared to be adequate in initiating an immune response to the new mutant strain of the coronavirus.
Experts have not been able to find any reason which suggests that the new mutation would affect the COVID-19 vaccination process yet.
The UK government's advisory body, New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NERVTAG), has released a paper to explain the effect of the vaccine on the new mutant coronavirus strain. "We are not seeing any increased virulence [clinical severity] or any gross changes in the S [spike protein] that will reduce vaccine effectiveness -- so far," said Dr Julian Tang, Honorary Associate Professor/Clinical Virologist, University of Leicester, in response to the NERVTAG paper.
Dr Jeremy Farrar, Director of Wellcome Trust, shares a similar opinion but issues caution about the new mutant strain. He said, "At the moment, there is no indication that this new strain would evade treatments and vaccines. However, the mutation is a reminder of the power of the virus to adapt and that cannot be ruled out in the future."
Deputy director-general of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory - Ewan Birney told The Guardian, "If the new variant was going to have a big impact on disease severity, we would have seen that by now". He further added, "So there is every reason to think that the vaccines will still work against this new strain, though obviously that needs to be tested thoroughly."