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UK Gov’t Panel: Covid Mutation a ‘Realistic Possibility,’ New Strains May ‘Evade’ Vaccines

UK Gov’t Panel: Covid Mutation a ‘Realistic Possibility,’ New Strains May ‘Evade’ Vaccines
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By Staff, Agencies

A British government science panel claimed that a coronavirus variant could emerge with a 35% fatality rate – akin to that seen in the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome [MERS] – noting that vaccine booster doses may be needed.

A Friday report by the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies [SAGE] looked at a series of hypothetical scenarios related to Covid-19 variants, finding it a “realistic possibility” that a mutation could appear with a case fatality rate comparable to SARS [10%] or MERS [35%], both of which belong to the coronavirus family.

While the body said that existing vaccines would remain effective against “serious disease” from such a variant short of “significant drift” or change in the virus’ spike proteins, it nonetheless added that “an increase in morbidity and mortality would be expected even in the face of vaccination,” as the jabs do not “fully prevent infection in most individuals.”

The report suggested a number of ways to deal with a more deadly mutation, including “vaccine booster doses to maintain protection against severe disease,” as well as measures to limit the introduction of new variants from abroad.

SAGE also considered the likelihood of a variant that “evades current vaccines,” saying that could occur in several different ways. The most likely cause would be a form of genetic variation known as “antigenic drift,” which happens when a virus mutates to a point when antibodies that prevented infection caused by previous strains no longer work.

The panel deemed that “almost certain” to happen to some degree. A “worst case” scenario described in the paper might happen when the immune system will no longer be able to produce antibodies for new emerging variants, either due to its past contact with the virus or as result of “previously experienced vaccines.” Such a doomsday scenario would make it “difficult to revaccinate” patients, however the researchers concluded that outcome is “less likely.”

The same agency released a separate report on vaccines on Friday, which found that immunity is “highly likely” to diminish over time, suggesting “there will be vaccination campaigns against SARS-CoV-2 for many years to come.”