The Ridgewood Blog Brings a Free Market Laissez-faire Point of View to Local, New Jersey State and National Issues.
A New COVID Variant Featuring Increased Transmissibility Strikes the UK
the staff of the Ridgewood blog
Ridgewood NJ, according to Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security a new SARS-CoV-2 variant has come to prominence in the UK, and there are concerns that it has increased transmissibility compared to other variants. The new variant was originally labeled as VUI-202012/01—variant under investigation; the first VUI in December 2020— and subsequently updated to VOC-202012/01—variant of concern. Other analysis labels the variant B.1.1.7. The variant is characterized by at least 17 specific mutations, including 8 for the spike protein, which attaches to the ACE2 receptor and allows the virus to enter cells. Preliminary research indicates that the change could make the virus more transmissible. UK researchers identified the mutations in specimens from as far back as September based on analysis of genetic sequencing data, and the variant “circulated at very low levels…until mid-November.” UK health officials began investigating the new variant in November, after increasing social distancing restrictions were not having the intended effect in Kent County in southeast England. Health officials subsequently identified widespread community transmission of the variant in nearby London and Essex County.
UK officials, including Prime Minister Johnson and Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Matt Hancock as well as officials from Public Health England and researchers from Imperial College London, indicate that the new variant could be substantially more transmissible. Notably, Dr. Susan Hopkins from Public Health England indicated that the new variant could potentially be 70% more transmissible, and Prime Minister Johnson noted that it could increase the reproductive number (R) by as much as 0.4. At this time, there is an absence of evidence that the strain results in more severe disease. Preliminary assessments suggest that the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine will still be effective against the variant, but additional research is ongoing. The UK has issued guidance to laboratories to enable them to update existing PCR-based diagnostic tests to ensure that tests can effectively detect infection with the new variant.
Researchers from the COVID-19 Genomics Consortium UK (CoG-UK) published (preprint) preliminary analysis of the variant’s genome. The researchers note that this variant exhibits a large number of mutations that appeared over a very short period of time. They theorize that the variant could have, in part, evolved in a chronically infected patient; however, it is not possible to determine the exact cause at this point. Additionally, the UK government published its own investigation of the variant, conducted by Public Health England (PHE). PHE analysis indicates, among other findings, that the variant has increased in prevalence since at least the week of October 12. Dr. Chris Witty, England’s Chief Medical Officer, estimated that the variant is responsible for 60% of recent infections in London.
This is not the first SARS-CoV-2 variant to gain widespread attention, particularly in the context of transmissibility. As we covered previously, the D614G spike protein mutation was found to have spread more efficiently in Europe and the US, and researchers determined that the mutation enabled the virus to spread more rapidly in nasal epithelial cells and the upper respiratory tract, which could make that variant more transmissible.