Britain’s Health Secretary He said there was “nothing to suggest” that the mutant would cause more serious disease, though he did say that the mutation is linked to the virus’ spike protein, which is instrumental in allowing it to reproduce and spread and is the target of many leading vaccines currently in development, including the Pfizer-BioNTech one currently being rolled out in the U.K. and the U.S..
Dr. Jeremy Farrar, Director of Welcome, said that consequences of new mutations are “potentially serious.” Farrar emphasized that there is a great deal left to learn about Covid-19, noting that “there is no room for complacency. We have to remain humble and be prepared to adapt and respond to new and continued challenges as we move into 2021.” Farrar added that there are still surprises in store for the coming year.
WHAT WE DON’T KNOW
As Hibberd said, it’s too early to tell whether this new strain of virus represents
a threat or not. Mutations are common and expected in viruses, especially ones that are moving around a new species like Covid-19. That it is found in areas seeing a rapid rise in cases seems, on face, alarming, but it’s too early to tell whether or not there is a causal link between the two events. Further research and observation will be needed to track and understand new strains.
Understanding the genetic makeup of Covid-19 is crucial in designing and implementing an effective pandemic response. Mutations could, for instance, increase the virus’ death rate, boost its transmission or, potentially, help it evade a vaccine and it’s a simple fact of life that viruses will mutate and change over time, especially when pushed to do so by the human immune system and the introduction of new vaccines. Indeed, it is unsurprising that we are seeing new strains emerge. Dr. Zania Stamataki, a viral immunologist at the University of Birmingham in England, said that “the emergence of different coronavirus strains a year after SARS-CoV-2 first jumped to humans is neither cause for panic nor
unexpected.” However, that does not mean mutations will always be benign, and careful monitoring will be required. That the U.K. has been able to detect changes so quickly is a good sign should a mutant turn out to be dangerous, putting the country in a good place to respond. The discovery of a new mutant strain in Denmark, linked to mink farms, raised precisely these kinds of worries, and the Danish prime minister ordered the culling of the country’s entire 17-million-strong herd in order to contain the threat. While the strain, believed to threaten the effectiveness of vaccines currently in development, is now thought to be extinct, the World Health Organization is investigating mink farms for their role in spreading the disease.
Alberta's top doctor says new strain of COVID-19 identified in the U.K. may not be 'dramatically different'
Thurs, December 17, 2020 Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, commented on the new variant of the virus that causes COVID-19 detected in the U.K., indicating that it may not be as significant as some may assume.
“We’ve had a few reports of different genetic alterations of mutation in COVID-19 and so far, there’s not been any evidence that these mutations are as dramatically different...as, for example, the influenza virus, which we know mutates very quickly and mutates dramatically,” Dr. Hinshaw explained. “But it is too early to know exactly what implications it may have or if, as we’ve seen in some of the other slight genetic alteration, it is not a significant issue with respect to how it interacts with the population.”
Alberta’s top doctor did stress that officials are still closely watching for developments and new information on this virus variant.
Will COVID-19 vaccines be safe?
For anyone who still has concerns about possibility receiving the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine or another vaccine candidate, Dr. Hinshaw highlighted that Canada has “one of the most robust regulatory systems for new vaccines in the world” and when available, everyone should be immunized.
“When it is your turn please get immunized,” she said. “It is an act of kindness for yourself, for your loved ones and for your community.”
“I believe the benefits of vaccine far outweigh the risks and this vaccine will save lives. There is overwhelming scientific evidence that vaccination is the best defence against serious infections.”
Could we run out of vaccine?
In terms of vaccine prioritization, the first phase of Alberta’s vaccine roll out is targeted to healthcare workers who care for those at highest risk of severe outcome from COVID-19, individuals in long-term care homes, Albertans over the age of 75 and individuals in Indigenous communities over the age of 65.
Phase two of the vaccine distribution plan would include first responders and other frontline professionals, which is expected to begin in April 2021.
Dr. Hinshaw said there may be a circumstance where some of the doses the province received will have to be held back when they arrive to ensure that each person who is immunized is able to get their second dose. Two injections are required for the both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines to be effective.
“That question of running out, we know that there is worldwide demand for these vaccines, we know that Canada has advanced agreements with many different vaccine manufacturers and so we are watching and waiting to see what the outcomes are,” she said. “We anticipate...that we will be able to offer all Albertans this vaccine.”
“The questions is of course timing, and that is one that we will need to wait and see how that rolls out.”