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Vaccines likely to work on new virus variant: Scientist

Scientists on WHO social media talk say existing health measures need to be kept to fight new COVID-19 variant

Peter Kenny   | 23.12.2020
Vaccines likely to work on new virus variant: Scientist

GENEVA 

Research so far on a new coronavirus variant found in the UK leads scientists to believe that vaccines will work as well on the new strain, a top British virologist Wednesday told a World Health Organization social media event broadcast globally.

Judith Breuer, professor of virology at University College London, spoke along with Jeffrey Barrett, director of the COVID-19 Genomics Initiative at the UK Wellcome Sanger Institute, and Frank Konings, a WHO senior laboratory expert who expressed agreement with her.

"We've seen nothing different in this virus compared to the variants that are already circulating," said Breuer. "We have no evidence that this virus is behaving differently immunologically in the population.

"So, we think that the vaccines will work just as well. And so we're rolling the vaccines out. And we're very carefully monitoring. But there is absolutely no signal at all that this virus is behaving differently to the variance in other variants."

Breuer said that scientists are not seeing any early signals of reinfections at the moment.

That is what would be seen if the virus could not be controlled by antibodies or immunity from previous infections.

The scientists spoke as the UK announced a further 39,237 new coronavirus cases across the country, with the total number standing at nearly 2.15 million and the total number of deaths at 69,051 while the new strain sparked alarm in other countries.

The EU had recommended member states to discourage all non-essential travel to and from the UK after a new coronavirus strain was found in the country.

‘Existing measures still work’

"Mutations always sound so scary and cause a lot of panic. But, actually, for the virus itself, it is quite normal. Viruses replicate or make copies of themselves. They always change a little bit," said Konings.

"So, they make a lot of errors, just like a typo when you write a letter. And these errors are called mutations. And the virus with a mutation is called a variant."

The WHO official said it is a normal and natural process that all the viruses go through.

"The important thing to keep in mind that even though the virus has changed, it's still led SARS-CoV-2, and the existing measures and interventions still work and should be implemented," said Barrett.

He also said that all essential public health and social measures known to work should be continued.

"Things that you have been doing over the last year, testing, isolating, caring for cases, contact tracing quarantine of contacts of cases, but also really your individual protective measures like hand hygiene, physical distancing and indoor ventilation are very important," said the British scientist.

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