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Scientists can tweak Covid vaccines to target new mutant strains in DAYS, experts claim


Current Covid vaccines could be reprogrammed to target new strains in just a few days, experts said today to allay fears about the South African variant.

Top government scientists have warned of changes to the virus that could mean the current wave of vaccines are less effective against the virus or not working at all. Matt Hancock said he was "incredibly concerned" with the highly infectious South African variant that has already been discovered in two British people.

However, experts told MailOnline today that there is no publicly available data to suggest the strain has the ability to evade the current iteration of thrusts, although it is more portable.

Professor Ian Jones, a virologist at the University of Reading, claimed he was "almost certain" that the vaccines will still be effective at some level.

He added that in the unlikely event that a new strain made vaccines obsolete, it would take "a few days or less" to optimize the bursts to target them.

Experts are less concerned about the Covid strain racing through the UK as it has fewer changes to its spike protein that would compromise the effectiveness of vaccines.

The mutations of the coronavirus have resulted in changes in the spike protein on its outside (shown in red), with which the virus binds to the human body (original image of the virus by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).

Brian Pinker, 82, became the first person in the world to receive the Oxford University vaccine today

Brian Pinker, 82, became the first person in the world to receive the Oxford University vaccine today

Questions and Answers: Everything we know about the South African variant

Was the variant found in the UK?

The variant was found in two people, one in London and one in the northwest, who came into contact with separated individuals returning from South Africa.

It was discovered by the world's leading genomics sequencing group in the UK, which are constantly monitoring how the coronavirus is spreading and mutating.

The two cases of the South African variant were identified through routine random sampling, with only about one selected in ten tests conducted in the UK.

This suggests that there are already many more cases of the variant in the UK.

Where does the new variety come from?

The new variant was created after the first wave of coronaviruses in Nelson Mandela Bay in the South African province of Eastern Cape in mid-December.

South Africa acquired the strain through genomic sequencing.

It is believed that this is the cause of infections, which rise from less than 3,000 per day at the beginning of the month to over 9,000 at the end.

Where else was the variant found?

Confirmed cases have been announced in France, Japan and the UK.

It will likely be in circulation in many more countries, but only a few nations have genome sequencing capabilities to identify it when it is low in numbers.

What has been done to address this?

Both people in the UK who had the new strain of the virus have been quarantined along with their close contacts.

Public Health England researchers are currently studying the variant in their research laboratory in Porton Down, Wiltshire.

All flights to and from South Africa were banned.

What does this mean for the fight against the virus?

A mutation in the new strain, N501Y, is believed to help make the virus more contagious – and easier to spread between people.

That said, measures like social distancing, wearing masks, and avoiding unnecessary contact have become more important.

Scientists following the strain's spread believe it is even more transmissible than the Kent strain that is currently plaguing Britain.

The British strain is 50 percent more contagious than the regular Covid, so this new South African variant is likely higher.

Studies are currently underway to quantify transferability.

What about the vaccine?

Scientists aren't sure if the South African tribe will affect the current iteration of Covid vaccines.

Dr. Public Health England's Susan Hopkins said there is still no evidence that this will affect any of the current shocks.

But Sir John Bell, Regius Professor of Medicine at Oxford University, argued the exposure was more worrying than Kent's.

He said there have been "pretty significant changes in the structure of the protein," which means vaccines may not work.

Scientists will test the blood of those who have been vaccinated against or have recovered from the coronavirus to make sure they can fight off the new strain.

The strain has a number of mutates on its spike protein that it uses to attach to and enter human cells.

Covid vaccines – including the Pfizer / BioNTech and Oxford University / AstraZeneca vaccines currently being rolled out across the UK – train the body to recognize the virus' spike protein.

If the tip mutates so badly that it can no longer be recognized, vaccines can become unusable or less effective.

Professor Jones told MailOnline: “There is currently no data on the ability of the UK or SA variants to evade the immune response generated by the vaccine.

& # 39; The vaccines all produced multiple antibodies that block virus-receptor interaction, and while the changes in the variants might bypass some of them, they are unlikely to bypass all, so it's almost certain that the Vaccine will still be effective at some level.

& # 39; And as long as severe Covid is prevented, even a partially effective vaccine would be useful. If a vaccine change were required, the required genetic change could be done in a few days, but of course scaling up to millions of doses will take time. & # 39;

Vaccine manufacturers have stated that they are already looking for ways to tweak their thrusts to protect people from new variants.

Professor Sarah Gilbert, one of the leading scientists behind the Oxford / AstraZeneca vaccine, told the BBC today: “We are testing how well (the vaccines) work on these new variants and others that will come in the future.

“And we're also thinking about what to do if it ever becomes necessary to replace the version of the vaccine we're using now with a new one.

“We don't think we're at this point yet. There is no reason to assume that we will need to make a change now, but it is possible that we will need to make a change to the vaccine in the future.

"So I'm still working with my team on how we can make this change very quickly if we ever need it."

When asked how quickly this change could be made if necessary, Professor Gilbert added, “We don't expect to have to make a change anytime soon. But we think this vaccine will likely be used over a period of many years.

'As with flu vaccines, we have a new version every year that takes into account the changes in circulating flu viruses. Something similar will likely have to happen with the coronavirus vaccines.

“I don't think it will necessarily be a very quick move that we have to make. But what we might be looking at is when we plan the vaccinations for next fall and think about another wave in late 2021. This is a theoretical possibility. We'll consider whether we're using the same version (the vaccine) or a different version. & # 39;

German company BioNTech, which helped deliver Pfizer's UK-approved vaccine last month, said it could use existing technology to create a new vaccine against mutations in the coronavirus in six weeks.

The team's vaccine uses brand new mRNA technology, which BioNTech CEO says is much easier to manufacture than traditional vaccines.

The comments came after one of the government's coronavirus advisors claimed yesterday that there was a "big question mark" about whether any of the current shock waves could protect against the mutant strain.

Sir John Bell, Regius Professor of Medicine at Oxford University, argued that the South African variant was more worrisome than Kent's because it had "fairly significant changes in the structure of the protein" which means vaccines may not work.

Covid vaccines – including the Pfizer / BioNTech and Oxford University / AstraZeneca vaccines currently being rolled out across the UK – train the body to recognize the virus' spike protein.

If the tip mutates so badly that it can no longer be recognized, vaccines can become unusable or less effective.

The Covid vaccine protects against the disease by teaching the immune system how to fight off the pathogen.

It creates antibodies – disease-fighting proteins that are made and stored to help ward off intruders in the future by clinging to their spike proteins.

However, if they cannot recognize proteins because they are mutated, it may mean that the second time the body is having difficulty attacking a virus, leading to a second infection.

However, there is no specific evidence that the South African tribe is more deadly or causes more serious illness than regular Covid.

The South African Minister of Health Dr. Zweli Mkhize, however, warned of "anecdotal evidence" for a "larger proportion of younger patients without comorbidities with critical illness".

Speaking of the threat posed by the South African variant, Hancock told BBC Radio 4's Today program: “I am incredibly concerned about the South African variant

“And so we have taken the measures we have taken to restrict all flights from South Africa and movement from South Africa, and insist that everyone who has been in South Africa be isolated.

& # 39; This is a very, very significant problem. In fact, I spoke to my South African counterpart over Christmas. One of the reasons they know they have a problem is that, like us, they have an excellent genomic science (program) to be able to study the details of the virus and it is even more problematic than the new UK Variant. & # 39;

It comes after Sir John told Times Radio yesterday, & # 39; The mutations associated with the South African form are actually quite substantial changes in the structure of the protein.

& # 39; My gut feeling is that the vaccine against the Kent strain will still be effective

"I don't know about the South African strain – that has a big question mark."

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