Vaccination against COVID-19 has already begun, which has raised hopes of a pandemic. However, in some parts of the world, the epidemic situation is still very difficult and new developments are not so favorable. In the UK, the alarm went off last week after researchers discovered that the coronavirus had mutated, causing the virus to spread even faster.
In response to this incident, the UK has taken the strictest precautionary measures to date. The British Prime Minister Borin Johnson said that “when the virus changes its method of attack, we must change the method of defense.” The railways were filled with people so that people could return home before the new restrictions came into force.
The new coronavirus appears to be experiencing similar mutations in South Africa. It must be said that the mutation of the virus is not surprising for science and they were expecting a scenario-like development. Since the beginning of the pandemic, researchers have noticed that as the world spread, the coronavirus underwent thousands of small mutations.
Some variations of the virus are spread in the population simply on the principle of probability, however, the more people become immune to the virus and the more vaccinated they become, the more likely it is that the virus will undergo mutations beneficial to its survival.
The British version of the virus has 20 mutations, some of which facilitate attachment and infection to human cells. This means that a new version of the virus might spread faster and “more efficiently”. For example, it is estimated that the mutated virus is 70% more “contagious” in the UK. This number is derived from in silico modeling and not from laboratory studies.
Muje Cevik, an adviser to the British government and an infectious disease expert at St Andrews University, says more experimental data are needed to accurately assess the new strain of infection. It is possible that the accelerated spread of the virus in the UK is due in part to human activity.
In the worst case scenario, the virus will become resistant to the vaccine, and a new vaccine will be needed to test it. All this work, which was spent on creating vaccines, will be in vain. However, scientists also point out that a type of mutation that would make the virus resistant to the vaccine and antibodies is unlikely in the near future. Things like this will not happen in a few months and this process will take years.
Although we do not know exactly how the virus mutates and how dangerous the variation found in the UK is, many European countries have closed their borders with the United Kingdom, such as the Netherlands and Italy. The Belgian government has restricted travel from the United Kingdom for 24 hours. Germany is working on special regulations that will partially restrict travel to Germany from South Africa and the UK.
Other countries, such as France, Austria and Ireland, as well as the US, are considering suspending flights from the UK, although concrete steps have not yet been taken.
The Georgian NCDC and the government have not commented on any additional restrictions on people leaving the UK for Georgia or the suspension of incoming flights from the UK.
The British Minister of Health said that the police will control the movement on the streets and stations of the United Kingdom more strictly. He said the restrictions imposed by Johnson could last for months.
Scientists fear that the frequency of virus mutations will increase even more significantly when mass vaccination programs are launched globally. Recent scientific studies have shown that the coronavirus can mutate in a way that protects itself from monoclonal antibodies. However, no matter how fast the virus mutates, it is very difficult for the body to completely avoid its defense mechanisms.
“The fact is that our bodies are targeting the virus with thousands of different weapons,” said Kartik Chandran, a virologist at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. “It does not matter if the virus is trying to move, it will be difficult to find a genetic defense mechanism that will completely protect it from the body’s immunity.”
For example, the flu virus takes 5-7 years to fully hide the human immunity. Doctors say that by vaccinating 60% of the population next year and reducing the spread of the virus, it will be easier to avoid an “apocalyptic” scenario. In addition, upgrades to Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines, along with new challenges, are quite possible.
While the worst case scenario may never be the same, scientists need to keep a close eye on the situation.