The BBC has a good plain-English summary and Q&A about the new coronavirus variant causing so many infections in the UK. Key points include:
- It is suspected to spread 70% more easily than the main coronavirus variant already in circulation (a R0 of 0.4 more than the earlier strain).
There have been changes to the protein spike it uses to enter cells—the same spike the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines target.
For now, scientists are optimistic that the vaccines will continue to provide protection against the new variant. (It will take a while before we know for certain. It will be interesting to see whether the infection rate for this variant is higher than the infection rate for earlier variants among the test groups in the Phase 3 trials of the current vaccines.)
Further mutations affecting the spike could diminish the effect of the vaccines.
This is an indication that, as with the flu, we’ll need to update coronavirus vaccines annually to address adaptations in the virus.
Meanwhile, in South Africa, a similar, but not identical, mutated variant has surfaced. (Via Crawford Kilian.)
(EDIT: There are not enough differences in the virus for this to constitute a new “strain.” It is better termed a “variant.”)