LONDON – Prime Minister Boris Johnson reported a rare success in the campaign against the coronavirus on Friday: news that the UK had vaccinated 5.4 million people. At the end of the day, it was overtaken by a preliminary finding that a new variant of the virus may be more deadly than the original.
This possibility, emerging from preliminary studies based on a small number of deaths in severely affected hospitals, is far from conclusive. However, the prospect of the rapidly spreading new variant, which is already known to be more contagious, could also raise more deadly fears that even with the introduction of vaccines, the pandemic will remain a serious threat for some time.
Government scientists said early evidence suggests the new variant, first discovered in the UK late last year, could increase the risk of death by around 30 percent. But even with such a spike, the vast majority of cases are non-fatal, and government estimates included a wide range of possible effects.
“In addition to the faster spread,” Johnson said at a press conference on Downing Street, “there now seems to be signs that the new variant – the variant first identified in London and the South East – can be linked . ” with a higher mortality rate. “
The underlying evidence, set out in a report released Friday by a government scientific committee, was less forceful than the prime minister. All they said was that there was a “realistic possibility” that the new variant would be more lethal and outlined a number of inescapable constraints in EU data.
“I would like to stress that these numbers are very uncertain and we need more work to get them under control, but it is obviously worrying that this leads to both an increase in mortality and an increase in portability,” said he was the chief scientific adviser to the government, Sir Patrick Vallance.
For Mr Johnson, who struggled to find a silver lining in the UK’s response to the virus, it wasn’t the first time good and bad news went hand in hand. On December 30, the government announced the approval of a home-grown vaccine developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca to tighten much of the country hours later due to a surge in infections.
The UK’s fight against the pandemic has increasingly become a race between vaccinating the public and confronting mutations in the virus, like the new variant which now accounts for a significant percentage of new cases across the country. It’s a fierce fight that scientists say inspires both hope and fear.
“2021 will be a game of cat and mouse to see if we can vaccinate people fast enough to stay one step ahead of the variations,” said Devi Sridhar, director of the university’s global public health program from Edinburgh.
External experts said the early claims of higher mortality rates are far from being resolved.
For one thing, the studies were based on a small subset – approximately 8 percent – of the total deaths in the UK, increasing the possibility that the results “may therefore not be representative of the general population,” the report said.
Second, less than 3 percent of known infections in the UK were fatal, so the effect of the new variant on mortality would have been measured in relatively small numbers, which would have made it more difficult to determine with certainty.
In addition, the signs of higher mortality rates contradicted the evidence that people with the new variant weren’t hospitalized more often than people infected with better established ones.
Answers to your vaccine questions
If I live in the US, when can I get the vaccine?
While the exact order of vaccine recipients may vary from state to state, most doctors and residents of long-term care facilities will come first. If you want to understand how this decision is made, this article will help.
When can I get back to normal life after the vaccination?
Life will only get back to normal once society as a whole receives adequate protection against the coronavirus. Once countries have approved a vaccine, they can only vaccinate a few percent of their citizens in the first few months. The unvaccinated majority remain susceptible to infection. A growing number of coronavirus vaccines show robust protection against disease. However, it is also possible that people spread the virus without knowing they are infected because they have mild or no symptoms. Scientists don’t yet know whether the vaccines will also block the transmission of the coronavirus. Even vaccinated people have to wear masks for the time being, avoid the crowds indoors and so on. Once enough people are vaccinated, it becomes very difficult for the coronavirus to find people at risk to become infected. Depending on how quickly we as a society achieve this goal, life could approach a normal state in autumn 2021.
Do I still have to wear a mask after the vaccination?
Yeah, but not forever. The two vaccines that may be approved this month clearly protect people from contracting Covid-19. However, the clinical trials that produced these results were not designed to determine whether vaccinated people could still spread the coronavirus without developing symptoms. That remains a possibility. We know that people who are naturally infected with the coronavirus can spread it without experiencing a cough or other symptoms. Researchers will study this question intensively when the vaccines are introduced. In the meantime, self-vaccinated people need to think of themselves as potential spreaders.
Will it hurt What are the side effects?
The vaccine against Pfizer and BioNTech, like other typical vaccines, is delivered as a shot in the arm. The injection is no different from the ones you received before. Tens of thousands of people have already received the vaccines, and none of them have reported serious health problems. However, some of them have experienced short-lived symptoms, including pain and flu-like symptoms that usually last a day. It is possible that people will have to plan to take a day off or go to school after the second shot. While these experiences are not pleasant, they are a good sign: they are the result of your own immune system’s encounter with the vaccine and a strong response that ensures lasting immunity.
Will mRNA vaccines change my genes?
No. Moderna and Pfizer vaccines use a genetic molecule to boost the immune system. This molecule, known as mRNA, is eventually destroyed by the body. The mRNA is packaged in an oily bubble that can fuse with a cell, allowing the molecule to slide inside. The cell uses the mRNA to make proteins from the coronavirus that can stimulate the immune system. At any given point in time, each of our cells can contain hundreds of thousands of mRNA molecules that they produce to make their own proteins. As soon as these proteins are made, our cells use special enzymes to break down the mRNA. The mRNA molecules that our cells make can only survive a few minutes. The mRNA in vaccines is engineered to withstand the cell’s enzymes a little longer, so the cells can make extra viral proteins and trigger a stronger immune response. However, the mRNA can last a few days at most before it is destroyed.
In addition, scientists said a number of confounding factors – like the overflow of hospitals or the possibly more aggressive spread of the variant in facilities like nursing homes – made it difficult to know for sure whether it was actually more deadly.
“We need more information before we can reach firm conclusions,” said Lawrence Young, a virologist at Warwick Medical School.
Ian Jones, a professor of virology at the University of Reading, noted that the report “tried to emphasize that the data are limited and the conclusions are tentative”. But, he added, “an increased case death rate is certainly possible with a virus that has improved its transmission game.”
The scientific studies on which the government relied were not fully published and described a wide range of possible effects of the new variant on mortality rates.
The report stressed that “the absolute risk of death per infection remains low”. Regardless of the death rate, scientists said the best answer to the new variant hasn’t changed: locks, face covers, and vaccines.
The UK had injected more than 400,000 people in the past 24 hours to meet Mr Johnson’s goal of vaccinating 15 million vulnerable people, nearly a quarter of the population, by mid-February. Only Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain have done more per capita. The United States and China have dispensed more doses than the UK, but only a smaller percentage of their population.
Mr Vallance said there was no evidence that the vaccines used were not effective against the variant first identified in the UK. However, he expressed less assurance about whether they offer similar protection against variants originating in South Africa and Brazil.
The warnings of the variant captured the political crosswinds Mr Johnson faced in responding to the pandemic. The rapid introduction of vaccines is likely to encourage his Conservative Party members to renew their demands on him to ease the lockdown. Scientists warn, however, that a complete relaxation of restrictions could trigger a renewed surge in infections even after widespread vaccination.
The opposition Labor Party, meanwhile, criticized Mr Johnson for delivering another unwanted surprise to the British public.
“This is deeply alarming news, not least because Boris Johnson reassured the nation back in December that there was no evidence that the variant was any more dangerous,” Labor Party’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said in a statement.
Mr Johnson presented the news as evidence of his commitment to bringing changing scientific evidence to the public. He also advocated that people stick to the rules of social distancing even if the vaccines promised a brighter future.
The warnings of the variant, which Neil Ferguson, a noted epidemiologist, first revealed in a statement Friday to a well-connected television correspondent, Robert Peston, laid the groundwork for that warning message to the Prime Minister.
“We can really only think about an activation when we are confident that the vaccination program is working,” said Johnson. “We have to lower these infection rates.”