Boris Johnson: UK faces ‘tidal wave’ of omicron cases

Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned Sunday that Britain faces a “tidal wave” of infections from the omicron coronavirus variant, and announced a huge increase in booster vaccinations to strengthen defenses against it. In a televised statement, Johnson said everyone age 18 and older will be offered a third shot of vaccine by the end of this month in response to the omicronemergency.” The previous target was the end of January.

He said cases of the highly transmissible variant are doubling every two to three days in Britain, and “there is a tidal wave of omicron coming.”

And I’m afraid it is now clear that two doses of vaccine are simply not enough to give the level of protection we all need,” Johnson said. “But the good news is that our scientists are confident that with a third dose – a booster dose – we can all bring our level of protection back up.”

He announced a “national mission” to deliver booster vaccines, with pop-up vaccination centers and seven-day-a-week getting extra support from teams of military planners and thousands of volunteer vaccinators. Johnson’s Dec. 31 target applies to England. The other parts of the U.K. — Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland — are also expected to speed up their vaccination campaigns.

The U.K. Health Security Agency says existing vaccines appear less effective in preventing symptomatic infections in people exposed to omicron, though preliminary data show that effectiveness appears to rise to between 70% and 75% after a third vaccine dose.

Source: https://www.startribune.com/

New Variant of SARS-CoV-2 Spreading Fast

A coronavirus variant called B1525 has become one of the most recent additions to the global variant watch list and has been included in the list of variants under investigation by Public Health England.

Scientists are keeping a watchful eye on this variant because it has several mutations in the gene that makes the spike protein – the part of the virus that latches onto human cells. These changes include the presence of the increasingly well-known mutation called E484K, which allows the virus to partly evade the immune system, and is found in the variants first identified in South Africa (B1351) and Brazil (P1).

While there is no information on what this means for B1525, there is growing evidence that E484K may impact how effective COVID vaccines are. But there is no suggestion so far that B1525 is more transmissible or that it leads to more severe disease.

There are other mutations in B1525 that are also noteworthy, such as Q677H. Scientists have repeatedly detected this changeat least six times in different lineages in the US, suggesting that it gives the virus an advantage, although the nature of any benefit has not been identified yet.

The B1525 variant also has several deletions – where “letters” (G, U, A and C) of the virus’s RNA are missing from its genome. These letters are also missing in B117, the variant first detected in Kent, England. Research by Ravindra Gupta, a clinical microbiologist at the University of Cambridge, found that these deletions may increase infectivity twofold in laboratory experiments.

As with many variants, B1525 appears to have emerged quite recently. The earliest example in the shared global database of coronavirus genomes, called Gisaid, dates from 15 December 2020. It was identified in a person in the UK. And like many variants, B1525 had already travelled the world before it came to global attention. A total of 204 sequences of this variant in Gisaid can be traced to 18 countries as of 20 February 2021.

Source: https://theconversation.com/