A new strain of the Coronavirus that is spreading in the UK has set off alarm bells across the world. While the UK is back under lockdown, the new development has raised questions about the vaccine rollout that is in its early stages in the country. Several countries including India have banned travel from the UK.
Initial evidence suggests that the mutant virus is more infectious. But scientists say that it may not make vaccines less effective.
Virologists describe mutation as a normal phenomenon in the virus. Speaking to RSTV, Dr Ekta Gupta, Prof Dept of Virology in The Institute of Liver and Biliary Sciences New Delhi, said a mutation occurs when the virus makes several variants of itself.
She described the SARS CoV-2 as an RNA virus that replicates very fast. With each replication, the virus generates errors in its RNA or genetic structure. These changes are known as mutations.
Dr Gupta added that mutations change the infectivity and transmissibility of the virus that need validation studies to determine their effect and role.
Ever since it was first detected in Wuhan, China the SARS-CoV-2 or the Covid 19 virus has seen many changes. British scientists have named the current strain that’s infecting people as ‘VUI-202012/01′, the Variant Under Investigation.
According to preliminary genomic studies, the present UK variant reflects an unusually large number of genetic changes compared to the original virus strain in Wuhan.
Also while the variant does seem about 40-70% more transmissible, there is no evidence at present that the disease it causes is any different from what the previous variants cause. Currently there is also no indication that the new strain will evade treatments.
Addressing media persons in New Delhi on Tuesday, Prof V K Paul, NITI Aayog, said the mutation doesn’t seem to be affecting the severity of the disease. It is also showing no impact on the potential of emerging vaccines.