With vaccines joining the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, the virus appears reluctant to give up. Over the last few weeks, news headlines have been dominated by the fact that there are now mutated versions of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Days after the UK revealed that a new strain of the virus was presently "out of control" across the island nation, they now have yet another contender.
"A new, potentially more infectious variant of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 has been found in Britain in cases linked to South Africa," said Health Secretary Matt Hancock on Wednesday. According to him, this latest strain had been discovered in two people in the UK thought to be contacts of those who had travelled between the two countries in the last few weeks.
Not a lot is known yet about this latest mutation. While the UK government has struck a cautionary note, the new strain appears to have originated in South Africa. Or at least, it appears to have manifested in the UK through cases linked to South Africa.
Should you be worried about this new strain?
"This new variant is highly concerning, because it is yet more transmissible, and it appears to have mutated further than the new variant (that) has been discovered in the UK," the Health Secretary said. According to officials, this latest strain is 70% more transmissible.
Can it cause greater damage to infected people?
When the first mutation was discovered, officials had assured that while it was far more infectious, there was no evidence to suggest that it could cause a more severe illness. Now, we do not know if the latest mutation falls into the same category, simply because there has been no official communique about the same. However, authorities have not made any mention of this second new strain being comparatively more harmful.
Will existing vaccines work against this second new strain?
Thus far, officials have not raised any concerns about the efficacy of vaccines against this new mutation. When the first new strain was discovered, officials had assured that the vaccine would still be effective. However, with these new strains having been discovered only recently, many are adopting a 'wait and watch' point of view.