London: The arrival of new variants of Covid-19 that could evade the currently available vaccines should be expected, and scientists should take the possibility seriously as such an event could put the country's fight against the virus back a year, experts warn the UK government, The Guardian reports.
The UK government's Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) has noted the threat in its recent papers. It continues backing the work on new vaccines that reduce infection and transmission more than current vaccines. Also, it is setting up more vaccine production facilities in the country and conducting more lab-based studies to predict more variants.
Professor Graham Medley, a member of SAGE and a leader of the government's Covid modelling group, said that the advantage against a new variant is that scientists could quickly generate vaccines against the virus. Still, the disadvantage is that we could be back in the same situation when the pandemic broke out, depending on how much resistance the current immunity have against a new variant. But the evolution of the virus is slow, he said with hope, and new variants are only marginally evasive to current immunity rather than making one big jump.
Stephen Reicher, a psychology professor at the University of St Andrews, sees sense in being prepared. He said that a systematic inquiry into both what went wrong and right is needed. Preparation could institute systemic changes to protect people. The pandemic has exposed many deficiencies of the society, and humankind could no longer pretend they are not aware of them, and this is a wake-up call, he said.
According to Marc Baguelin, an expert, preventing the import of variants of concern with "moderate to high immune-escape properties is critical since it might lead to deadlier future waves of the pandemic. He also said that it is unlikely that the variant would entirely evade all immunity from past infections or vaccines. Vaccines could be updated against emerging strains, but it might take months. So restrictions must be reimposed if public health is at risk. Though restrictions are political decisions, they should be proportionate with how much the new variant would evade current vaccines, he added.
Meanwhile, many experts sought the government's "variant escape contingency plan" or contingency plans to deal with future variants.
Supporting the move, Liberal Democrat health spokesperson Munira Wilson said that people need to have confidence in Boris Johnson's Covid-19 strategy and trust him not to repeat previous mistakes. She noted that refusing self-isolation, breaking their own rules, and making mistakes that cost lives have taken the public trust in government. Transparency is the only way to win the public's trust back, she added.
However, the UK government sources said that Public Health England and others monitor the pandemic situation with rapid surveillance and genomic sequencing and their vaccine programme is strictly effective.
The warning of the arrival of a new variant comes when the UK further loosened pandemic restrictions on Monday. Vaccinated people under 18 will no longer be required to self-isolate if they contact an infected and are advised, but not obliged, to take a PCR test.