UK Variant Develops 'Worrying' Mutation

E484K mutation turns up in Britain, may give virus better chance of evading antibodies
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 2, 2021 11:49 AM CST
The UK Variant Is Mutating Again
People take their own COVID-19 swab test at a testing facility in West Ealing section of London on Tuesday.   (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

The fast-spreading UK variant of the coronavirus appears to be mutating in a worrisome way, reports the BBC. Researchers with Public Health England have found a relative handful of samples—11 out of 214,000—with a mutation known as E484K. As the New York Times reports, this particular mutation may help the virus evade antibodies and thus become harder to control with vaccines. At the same time, however, vaccine makers are adapting as the mutations arise. The original strain of the UK variant (B117) didn't have the E484K mutation, which also has turned up in the South African and Brazil variants. An expert who advises the British government called E484K "the mutation of most concern," per CNBC. More:

  • Not unexpected: The BBC notes that while vaccines may be less effective against a virus with this mutation, they still provide some measure of protection. And even if they don't prevent all cases, they could reduce the number of severe cases. The mutation is "a worrying development, though not entirely unexpected," says a virus expert at the University of Leicester.
  • More context: The development is still too new to properly evaluate, a biologist tells the Times. Eleven samples isn't a lot, and the mutation may yet lose out to B117 versions without the mutation. "I think it's potentially concerning, but hard to tell from the report what it means," he says. A virologist asked to assess the risks from all of the above adds, "We'll have to wait for data."

  • Future hope: An earlier Washington Post story on the emerging mutations includes an observation from a University of Iowa virologist that a virus can only mutate so many times before losing some of its punch. "It can't keep mutating because it's going to lose the properties of being an all-around transmissible and pathogenic virus," says Stanley Perlman. "You don't have an infinite number of ways to make yourself better." The 1918 influenza virus, for example, became weaker over time as it spread around the world.
  • Russian vaccine: A new study in the Lancet medical journal has good news about Russia's Sputnik V vaccine, reports NPR. The study based on 22,000 participants suggests the vaccine is 92% effective at preventing all types of COVID cases, and 100% effective at stopping severe and moderate cases, per CNN.
(More coronavirus stories.)

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