British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is warning that the new variant of the coronavirus found in Great Britain may be more deadly, as well as more contagious.
Johnson told a news conference: “We’ve been informed today that in addition to spreading more quickly, it also now appears that there is some evidence that the new variant…may be associated with a higher degree of mortality,”
The “evidence” is preliminary, which begs the question: why say anything that isn’t confirmed?
The variant, known as B.1.1.7, has an unusually high number of mutations and was already associated with a more efficient and rapid transmission.
Scientists first detected this mutation in September. It has since been found in at least 44 countries, including the U.S., which has reported its presence in 12 states.
Last week, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned that the modeled trajectory of the variant in the United States “exhibits rapid growth in early 2021, becoming the predominant variant in March.”
There is so little credibility of leaders on the pandemic that it’s doubtful there will be a spike in mask-wearing because of this news. But Johnson says not to worry—that the vaccines are still effective against it.
But how much deadlier is the variant compared to the original virus?
“If you took … a man in their 60s, the average risk is that for 1,000 people who got infected, roughly 10 would be expected to unfortunately die with the virus. With the new variant, for 1,000 people infected roughly 13 or 14 people might be expected to die,” Vallance said.
He described the data as not being strong yet, and highlighted more concern regarding other Covid variants found in Brazil and South Africa.
That’s significant but hardly a reason to lock people in their homes and prevent businesses from reopening. More worrying is the apparent speed at which the virus is moving, as it’s a lot easier to transmit than the original strain.
Responding to the news, Yahoo News Medical Contributor Dr. Kavita Patel explained that “10 different studies with models show that the [U.K.] variant has a higher risk of death compared to the non-U.K. variants,” but underscored that “these are studies and models, not necessarily clinical trials.” She added that if the U.K. strain is in fact more deadly, it becomes “more urgent to get vaccines out as soon as possible” and that epidemiologists need to more clearly “understand the spread of the variant here in the U.S.”
The variant, which is believed to be as much as 70 percent more transmissible than the predominant strain in the U.S., has been identified in at least 20 states among Americans with no recent history of foreign travel, indicating it is spreading rapidly. The CDC says it could become the dominant strain in the U.S. by March.
Even if one or more of the variants prove to be resistant to the current vaccines, since it’s basically the same animal, it shouldn’t be difficult to tweak the original process and make it effective against all variants. But that will take time. Researchers haven’t given a time frame, but pharma companies making flu vaccines usually have a few months of lead time before having to come up with an effective vaccine against the current flu virus.
But we can probably scratch a “return to normal” for this year.