A highly infectious variant of COVID-19 that has spread around the world since it was first discovered in Britain late last year is between 30 percent and 100 percent more deadly than previous strains, researchers said on Wednesday.
In a study that compared death rates among people in Britain infected with the new SARS-CoV-2 variant, known as B.1.1.7, against those infected with other strains, scientists said the new variant had "significantly higher" mortality.
The B.1.1.7 variant was first detected in Britain in September 2020, and has since been found in more than 100 countries.
It has 23 mutations in its genetic code - a relatively high number of changes - and some of these have made it far more able to spread. UK scientists say it is about 40 percent-70 percent more transmissible than previously dominant circulating coronavirus variants.
Frequently Asked Questions
A vaccine works by mimicking a natural infection. A vaccine not only induces immune response to protect people from any future COVID-19 infection, but also helps quickly build herd immunity to put an end to the pandemic. Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. The good news is that SARS-CoV-2 virus has been fairly stable, which increases the viability of a vaccine.
There are broadly four types of vaccine — one, a vaccine based on the whole virus (this could be either inactivated, or an attenuated [weakened] virus vaccine); two, a non-replicating viral vector vaccine that uses a benign virus as vector that carries the antigen of SARS-CoV; three, nucleic-acid vaccines that have genetic material like DNA and RNA of antigens like spike protein given to a person, helping human cells decode genetic material and produce the vaccine; and four, protein subunit vaccine wherein the recombinant proteins of SARS-COV-2 along with an adjuvant (booster) is given as a vaccine.
Vaccine development is a long, complex process. Unlike drugs that are given to people with a diseased, vaccines are given to healthy people and also vulnerable sections such as children, pregnant women and the elderly. So rigorous tests are compulsory. History says that the fastest time it took to develop a vaccine is five years, but it usually takes double or sometimes triple that time.
In the UK study, published in the British Medical Journal on Wednesday, infection with the new variant led to 227 deaths in a sample of 54,906 COVID-19 patients, compared with 141 among the same number of patients infected with other variants.
"Coupled with its ability to spread rapidly, this makes B.1.1.7 a threat that should be taken seriously," said Robert Challen, a researcher at Exeter University who co-led the research.Follow our full coverage of the coronavirus pandemic here.