GMB: Dr Hilary warns of ‘reservoir of new variants’
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SAGE is the scientific advisory group that assists the Government on the risks posed by Covid. In a research paper published this week the UK’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies says if multiple variants combine the pandemic could get much, much worse.
If multiple strains of the virus merge into one new variant SAGE warns this “super” variant could be far more deadly than anything we’ve previously had to contend with.
It says the emergence of such a variant is a “realistic possibility”.
The mortality rate of the virus remains relatively low, less than five in every 100 people who catch it, who haven’t had the vaccine die from it.
Some experts say this mortality rate could increase if a combined strain emerges.
A new merged variant could see mortality rates soar mirroring those of the SARS and MERS outbreaks.
The mortality rates for these viruses was a shocking 10 and 30 percent respectively.
Dr Simon Clarke, an associate professor in cellular microbiology at the University of Reading, told The Sun: “While it is rare for two viruses to combine, it does happen, it’s called a ‘recombination event’ and is perfectly possible. It’s well documented with flu, for instance.”
He added: “There are multiple potential outcomes from this, but there’s no reason why it could not generate a more lethal variant.”
If a new strain of Covid was to become as lethal as MERS or SARS it could produce a mortality rate 10 to 30 times its current rate.
Dr Clarke did offer some reassurance, he said: “It’s certainly not a given that it would happen, it’s just something that could happen.
“Most changes however will be much more subtle shifts in genetic code.”
The paper was primarily analysing the natural mortality rate of the virus.
It didn’t take into consideration the vaccines which have been key in driving down mortality rates and hospitalisations.
But SAGE were keen to stress in the paper that: “vaccines do not provide absolute sterilising immunity”.
Experts have frequently warned of new strains which could dodge the vaccines.
In the paper, SAGE highlighted how important keeping booster jabs going was to overcome new variants.
They said these can be altered so they can provide better immunity against new variants which appear, much like the annual flu jab.
The paper provided some hope, it advised there is a chance the virus could weaken over time becoming “less virulent”.
The panel added it’s unlikely this will happen quickly, it might take a long time for the virus to become less hostile.
It is hoped one day the virus will become “endemic”, so it can be managed in the same way as the winter flu.
It is still unclear how long vaccine immunity lasts, the Government has said it will roll out booster jabs from September in a bid to prolong immunity for the most vulnerable and front line workers.
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