Sunday, June 26

New variants of Covid ‘will delay us a year’, experts warn the UK government | Coronavirus


Ministers are being pressured to reveal what contingency plans exist to deal with a future variant of Covid that evades current vaccines, amid warnings from scientific advisers that such an outcome could delay the battle against the pandemic an year or more.

Recent articles produced by the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) have suggested that the arrival of a variant that evades vaccines is a “realistic possibility.” Sage supported continued work on new vaccines that reduce infection and transmission more than current jabs, the creation of more vaccine production facilities in the UK, and laboratory studies to predict the evolution of variants.

With the arrival of a new variant seen as one of the main dangers that could intensify the crisis once again, leading scientific figures highlighted the risks. Professor Graham Medley, a Sage member and leader of the government’s Covid modeling group, said it was “clearly something that planners and scientists should take very seriously, as it would set us back a lot.”

“It is not that different from the planning that must be done between pandemics: a new variant that was able to overcome immunity significantly would be essentially a new virus,” he said. “The advantage would be that we know that we can generate vaccines against this virus, and relatively quickly. The downside is that we would go back to the same situation we were in a year ago, depending on how much impact the current immunity against a new variant has had. Hopefully the evolution is slow so new variants emerge that are just a bit elusive rather than a big leap. “Dr. Marc Baguelin, Imperial College Covid-19 response team and member of the modeling group The government’s SPI-M said preventing the importation of worrisome variants with “moderate to high immune escape properties would be critical as they could lead to future waves orders of magnitude greater than those experienced so far.”

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“Such a new virus is unlikely to completely evade all immunity from past infections or vaccines,” he said. “Some immunity should be maintained at least for the most serious outcomes, such as death or hospitalization. Most likely, we can update current vaccines to include the emerging strain.

“But doing so would take months and means that we may need to re-impose restrictions if there is a significant risk to public health. The amount of restrictions would be a political decision and would have to be proportional to how much this virus would elude current vaccines. “

It comes with further relaxation of restrictions in England on Monday, when fully vaccinated people and those under the age of 18 will no longer be legally required to isolate themselves if they come into close contact with someone with Covid. They will be recommended, but not required, to undergo a PCR test. Daily Covid cases hover around the 30,000 mark. The latest figures, from Aug. 13, showed that another 32,700 tested positive and another 100 deaths were reported.

Meanwhile, all 16- and 17-year-olds in England will be offered a first dose of vaccine over the next week to give them some protection before they return to school in September. Health Secretary Sajid Javid urged older teens not to delay. “Take their blows as soon as you can so that we can continue to live safely with this virus and enjoy our freedoms by giving yourself, your family and your community the protection they need,” he said.

Boris Johnson’s former senior adviser Dominic Cummings has already called on the government to publish a “variant escape vaccine contingency plan” and suggested that MPs should explore ways to force ministers to do so. One scientist, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said they would like to see the publication of the national risk assessment related to Covid-19 contingency plans.

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Munira Wilson, a health spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats, supports the measure. “It is critical that people have confidence in Boris Johnson’s Covid strategy and trust that he will not repeat the same mistakes from the last 18 months,” he said. “By refusing to isolate itself, break its own rules and make mistakes that have cost lives, the government has lost public trust. Transparency is the only way to start to regain that trust. “

Stephen Reicher, professor of psychology at the University of St Andrews, said: “It makes perfect sense to be prepared. Scotland is creating its standing committee on pandemics. It will be interesting to see what comes up at the UK level.

“In the long term, we need systematic research on what went wrong (and what went right) to be prepared and also so that we can institute systemic changes to protect ourselves. The pandemic has been like a barium meal that has exposed so many deficiencies in our society. We can no longer pretend that we are not aware of them. This has been a deafening wake-up call. Let’s make sure we don’t hit the snooze button. “

Government sources said Public Health England and others were monitoring the situation through rapid surveillance and genomic sequencing of the virus. A spokesman for the Department of Health and Welfare said the vaccination program had built a “wall of defense.”

“We are committed to protecting the progress of the vaccine launch and our world-leading genomic capabilities are at the forefront of global efforts to stay ahead of variants, with more than half a million samples sequenced per genome so far,” they said. .

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Official figures show that the UK recorded 93 new Covid-related deaths and 29,520 new cases yesterday. “Data from Public Health England shows that two doses of Covid-19 vaccines are more than 90% effective against hospitalization by the Delta variant, the dominant strain in the UK.”


www.theguardian.com

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