Devon disease expert offers reassurance over new Covid strain

Devon’s disease expert has assured people not to worry about the new strain of coronavirus that has been identified in England because it is common and ‘nothing out of the ordinary’.

Anita Merritt www.devonlive.com

Dr Bharat Pankhania, Exeter University’s communicable disease and public health expert, says that new variants of a virus are common and are produced normally as a virus replicates.

He added that it is unlikely the new variant will alter the effectiveness of the new vaccine, and that vaccines can be easily adjusted if necessary.

Any previous immunity to coronavirus should still remain, according to Dr Bharat, and that reports of faster spread of the virus are more likely a case of the new predominant strain being picked up more, and should not be read as the virus spreading faster.

Dr Bharat Pankhania, Exeter University's communicable disease and public health expert

Dr Bharat Pankhania, Exeter University’s communicable disease and public health expert (Image: Dr Bharat Pankhania)

Yesterday it was reported how a new variant of coronavirus has been found which is growing faster in some parts of England.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said at least 60 different local authorities had recorded Covid infections caused by the new variant.

He said the World Health Organization had been notified and UK scientists were doing detailed studies.

He said there was “nothing to suggest” it caused worse disease or that vaccines would no longer work.

In an interview with Sky News, Dr Bharat said: “The best way to describe it for everyone is imagine a large giant oak tree and the we have a little branch that takes off from that oak tree, and then that branch becomes the main trunk and the main artery of that tree.

“Often this happens with viruses whereby there are different variants, or different branches, and then one branch becomes the predominant one; the common one for Africa, the common one for Europe, the common one for the United States etc.

“So this is nothing new or out of the ordinary.”

When commenting on how the new strain will impact on immunity, he said: “I don’t think is going to nullify your immunity if you have had an infection and got better. I also don’t think it will nullify our vaccines which have just been developed.

“What is happening though is it is a predominant strain. It’s a bit like earlier on in the summer, the predominant strain is what came from Spain and it affected a lot of people, again in the South East.

“This again is a similar version of a strain spreading very fast in the London area.”

He added that the vaccine people are being offered will still be effective, and that it can me modified if later necessary.

Dr Bharat said: “I am very confident that we won’t have to refashion our vaccines because what we are looking at is a large spike of protein and there is no information that this spike protein changes dramatically over months or years.

“If it was to become non-infectious we are home and dry. So if the spike protein isn’t really changing with just minor variations then I expect our immune system not to be fooled by a new version of it, and therefore all immunity should last with new immunity.

“If that isn’t the case it still doesn’t matter because we can refashion the vaccines very quickly to make spike proteins are pertaining to the new strain.

“Don’t worry about this. These things are common and they do happen.”

Assurance were also given following reports that the new strain might be associated with a faster spread of the virus.

He said: “I think we need to have more data and more information. I don’t think it is faster spread; it is more a case of the predominant strain. In other words we are finding more of it because that is the strain that wishes to circulate in our population and our population has been interacting a lot with Christmas shopping and the easing of restrictions.”

It has also been reported how positive case numbers are increasing in over 60s, which Dr Bharat says he has also noted.

He said: “I have been observing this for the South East of our country and my observations and concerns over the past three weeks are the upward trend in the older age group .

“Now that is really concerning because older people are the ones who go on to develop severe illness. They are the ones who get admitted to hospital and ICU and some of them do die.

“I expect more older people to die which is disappointing and upsetting in equal measures.”