UK Facing The “Twin Threats” :Rapid Omicron Infection Rate Might Get To 1 Million Cases
December 9, 2021
October 21, 2021
A newly-discovered mutation of the delta variant is being investigated in the U.K. amid worries that it could make the virus even more transmissible and undermine Covid-19 vaccines further. Still, there are many unknowns surrounding this descendent or subtype of the delta variant — formally known as AY.4.2 — which some are dubbing the new “delta plus” variant.
Why does it matter?
It’s worth remembering that although AY.4.2 is being monitored, it has not been classified as a “variant under investigation” or a “variant of concern” by the WHO — that is, it has not been identified as having genetic changes that are expected to affect virus characteristics such as transmissibility, disease severity, immune escape, diagnostic or therapeutic escape. It also has not been confirmed that it causes significant community transmission or multiple Covid-19 clusters.
Still, that status could change following further monitoring and if it continues to be sequenced in an increasing number of cases. Finding potentially more transmissible variant matters because it could cause more Covid cases among the unvaccinated.
A large part of the world remains unvaccinated (only 2.8% of people in low-income countries have received at least one dose of a Covid vaccine, according to Our World in Data) while developed countries are seeing more and more “breakthrough” cases as immunity to Covid wanes around six months after being fully vaccinated. A more infectious variant could undermine vaccine efficacy even further, although there is no indication that is the case yet with the AY.4.2 subtype.
What do experts say?
Health officials are remaining calm about the delta subtype, for now, noting that it’s crucial to keep an eye on the mutation but not to panic. Commenting on “delta plus” on Wednesday, U.S. CDC Director Rochelle Walensky noted that “in particular the AY.4.2 variant has drawn some attention in recent days.” She added that: “we have, on occasion, identified this sub-lineage here in the United States, but not with recent increase frequency or clustering, to date.”
As well as the U.S., Israel said it had confirmed a case of the AY.4.2 variant in an 11 year-old boy entering the country at Ben Gurion airport. On Thursday, Russia also said it had registered some isolated cases of the AY.4.2 variant. It’s unknown to what extent, if any, the subtype has been found in mainland Europe.
The U.K. prime minister’s official spokesman called for calm on Tuesday, saying that ”[AY.4.2] is something we’re keeping a very close eye on,” but stressing that there was currently no evidence to suggest that this variant is more easily spread. “There’s no evidence for that, but as you would expect, we’re monitoring it closely and won’t hesitate to take action if necessary,” he added.
U.K. government officials are very reluctant to reimpose Covid restrictions, despite calls from health professionals to do so as British hospitals face being overwhelmed by demand as winter approaches.
Andrew Pollard, head of the Oxford Vaccine Group, which helped to develop the AstraZeneca-Oxford University vaccine, said on Wednesday that the delta subvariant won’t change Covid picture. “Discovery of new variants is, of course, important to monitor, but it doesn’t indicate that that new variant is going to be the next one to replace delta,”
“Indeed even if it does, delta is incredibly good at transmitting in a vaccinated population and a new one may be a bit better but it’s unlikely to change the picture dramatically from where we are today.”
Meanwhile, professor of immunology at Imperial College London, Danny Altmann, said that the subtype “needs to be monitored and, so far as possible, carefully controlled.”
“Because delta has now been the dominant mutant in several regions for some six months and not been displaced by any other variants, the hope has been that delta perhaps represented [the] peak mutation performance achievable by the virus. AY.4 may be starting to raise doubts about this assertion,” he warned.
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