Scientists at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research are studying the contagious new mutation of the coronavirus in the United Kingdom to see if it might be resistant to new vaccines, according to a report.
Dr. Nelson Michael, director of the Center for Infectious Diseases Research at the institute, told CNN that while there are always concerns that a shot won’t work if a virus mutates significantly, the scientists still expect the inoculations will be effective against the new strain.
“It stands to reason that this mutation isn’t a threat, but you never know. We still have to be diligent and continue to look,” Michael told the network on Sunday.
The Walter Reed experts on Thursday began examining genetic sequences of the new UK variant posted online by British researchers. As a first step, the team is performing a computer analysis.
The “analysis will allow us to gauge how much concern we should have. Other teams around the world are doing this analysis, too,” Michael said.
If the computer analysis indicates a cause for concern, studies would need to be done in a lab and on animals to more definitively determine if the vaccines will work on the new variant, according to CNN.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Saturday announced new holiday lockdowns in parts of the UK that have seen the spread of the new mutation.
“There’s no evidence to suggest the vaccine will be any less effective against the new variant. Our experts will continue their work to improve our understanding as fast as we can,” Johnson said.
Dr. Patrick Vallance, the UK’s chief scientific adviser agreed, saying: “Our working assumption at the moment from all of the scientists is that the vaccine response should be adequate for this virus.”
Dr. William Schaffner, an adviser to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on vaccines, told CNN that the vaccines are still useful because viruses mutate constantly, but usually not in ways that would make a shot useless.
“Even with mutations, the virus essentially stays the same,” Schaffner said. “It’s like with a person. I can switch out my brown coat for a gray coat, but I’m still Bill Schaffner. I’ve changed something, but I’m still the same person.”
Meanwhile, the British prime minister plans to chair a meeting of the government’s emergency committee later Monday after France closed its borders to arrivals from the UK to stem the spread of the new strain.
France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, Poland, Austria, Denmark, Ireland and Bulgaria were among those who on Sunday announced widespread restrictions on flights from the country.
On Saturday, Johnson announced that he was placing London and the southeast of England in a new Tier 4 level of restrictions after a warning from its scientific advisers — using what is widely considered to be one of the world’s most sophisticated genome sequencing regimes — that the new variant was spreading far faster than existing strains.
He said that early indications are that the new variant is 70 percent more transmissible and is driving the rapid spread of new infections in the capital and surrounding areas.
On Sunday, the UK recorded a record daily total of 35,928 new infections.
With Post wires