Covid mutations: US scientist who helped defeat smallpox ‘worried’ about new variants

Macron: Kent variant 'gave rise to epidemic within the epidemic'

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Doctor Larry Brilliant, who famously worked on eradicating smallpox, fears new variants could delay the pandemic’s end. His comments come as US public health experts warn of a fourth wave of infections, while continental Europe is in the throes of a third.

In New York, 70 percent of all sequenced cases are a variant more infectious and deadly then the original strain that emerged in Wuhan China in December 2019.

CNN’s Erin Burnett referenced the New York outbreak to ask Dr Brilliant about variants of coronavirus, and whether vaccines will be able to eradicate them.

He replied: “I’m quite worried about the variants.

“We seem to be getting not only many variants but variants of concern almost every week, and we’ve now had a variant that clobbers a vaccine. The AstraZeneca vaccine is 90 percent ineffective against the South African variant.

“We have other variants that re-infect people who’ve had the disease, as in Manaus and Brazil, and as you say we have the UK’s B117 variant; a variant that is not only more transmissible but appears to be creating more morbidity and mortality.”

Later in the interview, Dr Brilliant said countries need a “back-up plan in addition to vaccinating everybody as fast as we can”, citing “outbreak containment” and matching vaccines to certain variants.

Ms Burnett then asked the epidemiologist about ‘booster’ vaccines being developed by Pfizer and Moderna, to which he said: “It could be that the booster does it, I’m hopeful that there will be boosters that vaccinate and immunise us from everything since the last vaccine we had.

“But in addition we will have dozens of vaccines, and some will match better against certain variants.

“Just as you said if in New York 60 or 70 percent of the virus is the B117, we should be sure that we’re having a vaccine used there that is effective against that variant.

“And I think that, as the months go by, that’ll become more and more important.”

The World Health Organisation declared smallpox had been eradicated on May 8, 1980, with Dr Brilliant participating as a medical officer with the group.

Speaking to Wired magazine on Thursday, he said he wished he could go back in time as COVID-19 affected people in worse ways than anticipated.

He told the outlet: “The epidemiological part, we got right. Here are the things we didn’t get right: We expected a respiratory disease that killed because it created pneumonia.

“But this disease is systemic. It causes long-haul symptoms, it goes from nose to toes—you lose your sense of smell and your toes get swollen.

“In some cases, it increases the possibility of stroke. And so on.”

In the UK, booster shots against coronavirus variants will be available for those aged over 70 from September.

Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi said the first booster doses would go to the top four priority groups, including care home staff, NHS workers and the clinically extremely vulnerable.

He told The Telegraph: “Jonathan Van-Tam (the deputy chief medical officer) thinks that if we are going to see a requirement for a booster jab to protect the most vulnerable, (it) would be around September.”

As of yesterday, the UK has administered 31,301,267 first doses and 4,948,635 second doses of coronavirus vaccine.

Yesterday also saw 3,402 cases and 52 deaths within 28 days of a positive coronavirus test.

In total, the UK has recorded 4,353,668 cases and 126,816 deaths.

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