BRITISH medical professor Sir John Bell has warned that the vaccine developed to combat the dreaded Covid-19 virus may not be effective against the new South African strain thus making mass vaccination ineffective.
Worldwide, there are plans to carry out mass vaccinations following the development of several vaccines against the virus. In several countries, vaccination has already begun but Sir John, a regius professor of medicine at Oxford University has expressed doubts about the effectiveness of available vaccines.
Sir John said: ‘The mutations associated with the South African form are really pretty substantial changes in the structure of the protein. My gut feeling is the vaccine will be still effective against the Kent strain.
‘I don’t know about the South African strain, however. There’s a big question mark about that.”
Last year, Sir John helped develop the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine, which has been approved for use in the UK. Vaccines are thought to be effective against the UK variant known as VUI-202012/01 but Sir John said the South African strain is thought to have mutated further than the Kent one, which causes more concern.
Already, there have been two instances of the South African strain in the UK . Covid-19 vaccines protect against the virus by teaching the immune system how to fight off the pathogen.
Sir John explained that although there was no data yet on whether the South African variant increases severity, its increased the infectiousness, probably by increasing its ability to bind to the human cells. He said the Oxford University team was currently assessing whether the current vaccines would work against the mutant strains but there was still room to manoeuvre because the vaccines worked much better than anyone thought they were going to.
“I think it’s unlikely that these mutations will turn off the effects of vaccines entirely. I think they’ll still have a residual effect,.
“It might take a month, or six weeks, to get a new vaccine, so everybody should stay calm, it’s going to be fine. We’re now in a game of cat and mouse because these are not the only two variants we’re going to seem we’re going to see lots of variants,” Sir John added.
In December, the UK first detected the Kent variant after a rise of cases were linked to the strain. A number of countries including Australia, Italy, Iceland, Spain and the Netherlands have also reported the variant, now known as mutant Covid.