LONDON – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Friday warned that a variant of the coronavirus first detected in the country in September could be around 30% more deadly than previous versions of the disease.
Johnson unveiled the disturbing statistic at a new conference in London.
British scientists had previously concluded that the variant, known as B.1.1.7, spreads between 30% and 70% faster than the previous dominant coronavirus strain in the UK
Besides spreading faster, “it may be associated with a higher degree of mortality,” he said.
Sir Patrick Vallance, Johnson’s chief scientific adviser, explained that the previous average death rate of 60-year-olds in Britain from COVID-19 was around 10 per 1,000. With the new variant, around 13 or 14 in every 1,000 infected people are expected to die, he said.
“I want to point out that there is a lot of uncertainty around these numbers and we need more work to get a precise idea, but it is obviously concerning that this (variant, B117) has an increase in the mortality as well as increased transmissibility, ”Vallance said.
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The conclusions were based on the findings provided to the UK government through the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group, or NERVTAG. The group compared death rates among people infected with new and old versions of the virus.
The announcement marked the first time British officials have said the variant, discovered in Kent, England, appears more deadly. They previously said there was no reason to believe it could make people sicker or lead to more deaths.
The results were based on two papers presented on Jan. 15 that showed an increased case fatality rate among age groups. The NERVTAG summary found a “realistic possibility” that infection with the B.1.1.7 variant “is associated with an increased risk of death compared to infection with non-VOC viruses (viruses of concern)”.
But the summary also points out that the hospital mortality rate associated with B.1.1.7 has not increased and that “the absolute risk of death from infection remains low”.
Hospitalization rates have also not increased, according to the report, although that data may lag behind death rates.
The study was based on the deaths of 2,583 people – of whom 384 had the new variant – out of 1.2 million people tested. This represents around 8% of all deaths in the UK between late November and early January.
Research suggests that Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines will continue to be effective against the new variant in the UK, which was first detected in South East England and has now spread around the world, including the United States.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a recent report that they expected the rapidly spreading variant to become the dominant strain in the United States by March, potentially fueling an exponential growth in the disease.
As of January 20, the CDC has reported 144 cases of variant B.1.1.7 in the United States.
Luciana Borio, COVID advisor to the Biden administration and former head of the Food and Drug Administration, said she believed it was too early to say the variant directly resulted in more deaths.
There are other reasons that could explain why more Britons are dying, she said.
As more and more people are infected, more people are expected to die and “the quality of medical care deteriorates when the system is under enormous stress as it does. currently in the UK, ”she said.
Additionally, Borio said, there could be more deaths because people avoid or cannot get routine care during the pandemic.
There is no biological explanation yet as to why this variant is expected to be deadlier than the original version of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19, she said.
“At a minimum, I’d like to see data that this virus is causing higher viral loads or some sort of mechanism that could explain the direct impact,” she said. “We have no evidence that this is a biological phenomenon.”
Akiko Iwasaki, an immunologist at Yale University, said the news should encourage people to “double down” to their efforts to stay safe by wearing masks, avoiding overcrowding indoors and getting vaccinated as soon as possible. ‘they have access to it.
“Honestly, the more interaction you can avoid, the better,” Iwasaki said. “Obviously some people don’t have that luxury.”
She said she was comforted by the data showing that vaccines would still work against this variant, but there are already more variants spreading – and more to come.
“You don’t want to spread fear, but it’s really a problem,” she said.
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