COVID could mutate into a new super variant which could beat vaccines, make people sicker and reinfect victims in a devastating new outbreak, leading experts have warned.
Scientists told The Sun Online about the need to vaccinate as many people as possible and stick to the lockdown rules as it is feared the rapidly changing virus could overwhelm our current arsenal of vaccines.
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Scientists fear a possible super mutation of Covid which makes people sicker and beats vaccinesCredit: Alamy
Brits have been urged to stick to the rules over Easter after busy scene earlier this weekCredit: LNP
The experts hammered home the need to rob Covid of the rapid person-to-person transmission which helps it develop mutations.
And they warned possible new variants in the future could make people sicker and re-infect people who had already developed antibodies in a “very, very scary” new outbreak.
It comes as Prime Minister Boris Johnson pleaded with Brits to stick to the rules as we go into the long weekend for Easter so the UK can keep to its plan to unlock totally by June.
Hot weather earlier this week already saw thronging parks and beaches amid fears it could trigger a new wave despite months of lockdown pain finally leading to plunge cases.
Covid variants and mutations have been popping up around the world – with various tweaks appearing to make it more transmissible.
Fears have loomed for months that a mutant Covid variant could become significantly more deadly.
Meanwhile, scientists in India claimed they have identified a new variant that carries two mutations.
And variants first identified in South Africa and Brazil contain the E484K mutation, which is thought to be make the bug evade vaccines.
Studies so far have shown the Pfizer and AstraZeneca jabs do work against current known variants. It comes amid fears the E484K mutation could make them slightly less effective.
Yet the latest results from Pfizer show the vaccine does protect against the South African strain, raising hopes the same will be true for the Brazil variant.
The best ways to avoid this are to vaccinate as many as we can – and reduce transmission – and to stay in lockdown until as many as we can are vaccinated
Dr Tony Lockett
Dr Tony Lockett, from King’s College London’s Institute of Pharmaceutical Science, told The Sun Online about the prospect of a devastating new mutation – and urged Brits to stick to the rules.
He said: “The effect – well it could be devastating – much worse than the original as younger people could become sicker and those who have had the virus get reinfected with the new strain
“Its really very scary.”
It comes as it was warned coronavirus mutations could render vaccines redundant in less than one year, according to a survey of epidemiologists by The People’s Vaccine Alliance.
Dr Lockett explained some mutations arise when the virus infects people who cannot beat it with their immune system.
The expert added: “Uncontrolled proliferation leads to the virus replicating more actively and hence mutation is more likely.
“Patients with poor immune systems are therefore are a possible source of mutations.”
He went on: “The causes of mutations are therefore allowing vulnerable subjects to get exposed.
“The best ways to avoid this are to vaccinate as many as we can – and reduce transmission – and to stay in lockdown until as many as we can are vaccinated.
“As Chris Whitty has indicated speeding the lockdown release will lead to more transmission and so more likely mutants – or existing mutants spreading – so the mutations are fed by meeting up and not getting vaccinated.”
Professor Ravi Gupta
Harvard Professor Dr William Hannage explained it is key to stop the new variants before they can get a foothold as it stops the spread which fuels the mutations.
He told The Sun Online: “At the moment there is a lot of concern around E484K, a mutation in the spike protein which is thought to help the virus sidestep immunity from prior infection and is found in several of the variants.
“While it looks like vaccines should still offer protection, at least from severe disease, this is one to watch.
“It is why the government has been so keen to stop B.1.351 (the South African variant) from getting a toehold in the UK, because one of the mutations characterizing that variant is E484K.
“There are a few others as well which make antibody treatments less effective.”
New mutations on the coronavirus can make it harder for the body’s immune system, which has been primed to look out for the “original” strain either through vaccination or prior infection, to recognise it.
Antibodies – proteins produced by the immune system to fight the virus – may be weaker against new strains.
The threat of new coronavirus strains also means masks and social distancing could be needed well into 2022, despite the vaccine rollout, and it is not clear when border controls will be relaxed.
Studies have shown the current vaccines do still work against new variants, but may be less effective.
Scientists are already working on tweaked vaccines to help deal with new mutations in future, much like the flu vaccine which is altered every year.
Ravi Gupta, a professor of Clinical Microbiology at the Cambridge Institute for Therapeutic Immunology and Infectious Disease said: “(Mutations) are already on the way to becoming immune to our current vaccines.
“For example, the AstraZeneca study did not do well against the South African strain.
“The virus is already on its way to becoming resistant to what we have at the moment. There’s evidence the same mutations are cropping up again and again.
“For example, the Brazil and South African variants have this E484K mutation that really makes it hard for our antibodies to neutralise and stop the virus from causing infection.”
There has been growing concern over the spread of South African and Brazilian variants of coronavirus in Europe as a third wave of Covid-19 sweeps across the continent.
A string of countries have gone back into lockdown or tightened up measures again in response to spiking infection rates.
Speaking in a video on social media this morning, the Mr Johnson isued a warning to anyone planning to see loved ones for the first time in months over Easter.
He said the country is “not yet” at the stage where families and friends can meet inside, even if they have been vaccinated.
Mr Johnson added: “We’re very much in a world where you can meet friends and family outdoors under the rule of six or two households.
“And even though friends and family members may be vaccinated, the vaccines are not giving 100 per cent protection and that’s why we just need to be cautious.
“We don’t think they entirely reduce or remove the risk of transmission.”