British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Friday delivered an update on the UK variant of COVID that nobody wanted to hear: In addition to being more contagious, it may be more deadly as well. In its coverage of Johnson's press conference, the BBC is quick to add this caveat: "However, there is still huge uncertainty around the numbers—and vaccines are expected to work." The fast-spreading variant, which has been detected in the US and in other nations, is estimated to be up to 70% more contagious. Based on an example used by Britain's top science adviser, Patrick Vallance, preliminary data suggests the variant also is about 30% more deadly. He says the original strain could be expected to kill 10 of 1,000 infected patients in their 60s, but the figure rises to 13 or 14 with the new strain, per the Washington Post.
The same increase could be expected across different age groups, he adds. "We've been informed that in addition to spreading more quickly ... there is some evidence that the new variant ... may be more associated with a higher degree of mortality," is how Johnson put it at his news conference, per CNN. Vallance stressed that "that there's a lot of uncertainty around these numbers and we need more work to get a precise handle on it, but it obviously is a concern." He also spoke of another worry: Two other variants in South Africa and Brazil "have certain features which means they might be less susceptible to vaccines," he says, adding that they "are definitely of more concern than the one in the UK." (The CDC says the UK strain could be the dominant strain in the US by March.)