Author: Vanessa Chalmers
This post originally appeared on Health News – The Sun
THE BRAZILIAN Covid variant is more transmissible than previously thought, scientists have warned.
It could spread at more than double the rate of previous circulating strains, explaining why the virus has ripped through Brazil.
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Scientists led by University of Copenhagen warned the UK needs to stay on guard to stop the variant, named P1, causing chaos.
Because it has also shown to reinfect people who have previously had Covid, it could also infect people who are vaccinated.
Prof Samir Bhatt, a researcher at University of Copenhagen and corresponding author on the paper, told The Sun: “Moving forwards the bigger concern is immune escape given substantial vaccination rates.
“This is the most important thing to keep an eye on in the UK right now where continued surveillance and caution is critical.”
In the UK, a very small number of cases of P1 have been confirmed – 60 since February 2021.
For this reason, scientists have speculated that it doesn’t have the ability to overthrow the Kent variant, which is dominant in the UK.
But there are still a lot of unknowns about how different strains compete with each other.
Prof Bhatt said: “From what we know now, P1, B117 [Kent], B351 [South Africa] and 617 [India] are comparable in terms of their transmissibility.
“This is why P1 has not taken off in many countries, B117 was earlier out the gate and so that has spread more widely.”
Prof Bhatt and colleagues studied P1, in Manaus, the Amazonian city in Brazil where it first emerged.
They concluded P1 was between 70 per cent and 140 per cent more transmissible than other variants circulating in Manaus, which were not named.
For comparison, the variants from Kent and South Africa have been estimated to be 70 per cent and 50 per cent more transmissible, respectively, compared against the original virus strain from Wuhan, China.
P1 can also reinfect between 20 and 40 per cent of people who have already had Covid before, meaning it can evade some immunity, the study found.
This poses serious questions about whether vaccines would work against P1, as research is currently underway to investigate this.
The study also showed people infected with Covid were 20 to 90 per cent more likely to die of the disease in the period following the emergence of P1.
It means P1 may be more lethal. However, the higher number of deaths could be a result of pressure on hospitals at the time.
The study said P1 “is spreading rapidly across Brazil”, as Prof Bhatt said the “aggressive” strain seems to “be the cause of their [Brazil’s] problems”.
He said: “Our epidemiological model indicates that P1 is likely to be more transmissible than previous strains of coronavirus and likely to be able to evade immunity gained from infection with other strains.
“Our analysis shows that P1 emerged in Manaus around November 2020. It went from not being detectable in our genetic samples to accounting for 87 percent of the positive samples in just seven weeks.
“It has since spread to several other states in Brazil as well as many other countries around the world.”
Brazil has reached unprecedented levels of Covid transmission and deaths, and now the P1 variant is devastating other Latin American countries.
The study, published in the journal Science, cautioned that it was only carried out in Manaus, and how P1 behaves in other areas of the world may be different.
Researchers said the world needs to be aware of P1 and keep tabs on cases to stop it from growing.
Cases of new variants are growing in the UK, some the result of community spread and not linked with international travel.
But none have taken off to concerning heights – although cases of the Indian variant appear to have grown in numbers very quickly.
Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, deputy chief medical officer for England, said last night: “I couldn’t call the numbers [of cases of new variants] trivial but at the same token I don’t see them rushing away now or in the next few weeks in terms of giving us a new kind of problem.”
Concern about new variants and how they could derail the UK’s vaccine programme has led to tougher border controls.
Prof Van-Tam said it was difficult to assess how new coronavirus variants would impact vaccines.
He told the Downing Street press briefing on Wednesday that he hoped the inoculations would continue to protect against severe illness.
He said: “The way you test these vaccines against these variants is either you have that variant circulating widely in your population, and you then kind of learn the hard way whether vaccines are working or not – you gain real-life epidemiological data.
“We can’t do that if they are not circulating – we are trying not to let them circulate so we are not going to create that situation so instead what we do are a series of laboratory studies.”
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In light of available lab studies, he added: “Likely in my view, the first thing to go – if something goes – will be protecting against infection, but I hope protection against severe disease will be much more solid and much more lasting.”
It comes as the Government announced it has secured an extra 60 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus jab for a booster vaccination programme in the autumn.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “Our vaccination programme is bringing back our freedom, but the biggest risk to that progress is the risk posed by a new variant.”