Tests conducted on samples of the Kent variant, named after the region in England where it was first detected, show a mutation, called ‘E484K’, already detected in the South Africa and Brazil variants.
The highly transmissible and possibly deadlier variant of COVID-19 detected in southern England at the end of last year is showing signs of further mutation, UK scientists warned on Tuesday. Tests conducted on samples of the Kent variant, named after the region in England where it was first detected, show a mutation, called ‘E484K’, already detected in the South Africa and Brazil variants.
There are fears that this mutation could evade the immune system and that the vaccines currently being administered may prove less effective against these further mutating variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
The findings form part of yet-to-be peer-reviewed results of research at the Cambridge Institute of Therapeutic Immunology and Infectious Disease (CITIID), University of Cambridge, in collaboration with the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) COVID-19 BioResource.
“Of particular concern, though, is the emergence of the E484K mutation, which so far has only been seen in a relatively small number of individuals. Our work suggests the vaccine is likely to be less effective when dealing with this (E484K) mutation,” said Professor Ravi Gupta, the lead researcher at the CITIID.
He said that the variant is expected to continue to acquire mutations seen in the other variants of concern.
“So we need to plan for the next generation of vaccines to have modifications to account for new variants. We also need to scale up vaccines as fast and as broadly as possible to get transmission down globally,” he said.
The data, which relates to a small sample of patients, also suggests that a significant proportion of over-80 olds may not be sufficiently protected against infection until they have received their second dose of the vaccine.
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