Peacock warns over UK’s COVID variant

The coronavirus variant first found in the British county of Kent is a concern and could undermine the protection given by vaccines against developing COVID-19, according to the head of the UK’s genetic surveillance programme.

Sharon Peacock, director of the COVID-19 Genomics UK consortium, said vaccines were so far effective against the variants in the United Kingdom, but that mutations could potentially undermine the shots.

She also said the British variant was dominant in the country and was likely “to sweep the world, in all probability”.

The coronavirus has killed 2.35 million people and turned normal life upside down for billions, but a few new worrying variants out of thousands have raised fears that vaccines will need to be tweaked and people may require booster shots.

“What’s concerning about this is that the 1.1.7 variant that we have had circulating for some weeks and months is beginning to mutate again and get new mutations which could affect the way that we handle the virus in terms of immunity and effectiveness of vaccines,” Peacock told the BBC.

“It’s concerning that the 1.1.7, which is more transmissible, which has swept the country, is now mutating to have this new mutation that could threaten vaccination.”

That new mutation, first identified in Bristol in southwest England, has been designated a “Variant of Concern”, by the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group.

Britain’s chief scientific adviser, Patrick Vallance, said the Bristol variant had one of the same mutations as the South African.

“It is not surprising that it has happened and it will happen elsewhere as well,” he said this week.

“In getting that variant it does make it slightly more likely to look different to the immune system so we need to watch out for it, we need to measure it, we need to keep on top of it and need to keep testing the vaccine effects in this situation.”