GMB: Dr Amir Khan on 'sobering' Delta variant numbers
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The Covid warning comes after the Government did not rule out a “firebreak” lockdown in response to rising infections and hospitalisations with COVID-19, but only as “a last resort” measure. The Delta variant was first reported in India last year and has quickly proven to be more easily transmissible and resistant to Covid antibodies. The SARS-CoV-2 B.1.617.2 variant has since spread to more than 90 countries and has emerged as the leading cause of infections in the UK, US and Israel, among others.
Spikes in the number of infected are being reported despite an increasing number of people being vaccinated against Covid.
In the UK, more than 48.2 million people have received their first dose of the Covid vaccine and more than 43.5 people have had their second jab.
Globally, World Health Organization (WHO) data indicates more than 5.35 billion jabs have already been administered.
According to a new paper published in the journal Nature, Delta’s dominance may be due to its “increased infectivity and reduced sensitivity to neutralising antibodies”.
The study, carried out by Ravindra Gupta of the Cambridge Institute of Therapeutic Immunology and Infectious Disease and colleagues, compared the Delta variant’s genetic mutations against the original strain of SARS-CoV-2.
In a laboratory environment, the mutated variant was found to be six-fold less sensitive to antibodies found in individuals who have recovered from COVID-19.
Even more worryingly, the variant was found to be eight-fold less sensitive to the antibodies produced by the Pfizer–BioNTech and AstraZeneca vaccines.
A press release issued by Springer Nature states: “The research suggests that continued infection control measures may still be required in the post-vaccination era.”
The study’s authors tested the Delta variant on lab models of the human airway to see how it replicates.
Delta was found more effective at replicating than the Alpha variant, also known as the Kent variant.
The scientists believe the advantage is the result of the “predominantly cleaved configuration” of the virus’s spike protein.
Spike proteins are tiny structures all over the virus’s body that allow the coronavirus to enter human cells to replicate.
JCVI expert warns booster vaccines will wear off
In the case of Delta, the spike protein allows the virus to replicate at much faster rates than the Kappa variant.
The study was carried out over a six-week period between March and April this year.
The scientists studied the infections of 130 healthcare workers from three hospitals in Delhi who have received two doses of the AstraZeneca jab.
The vaccine was found to be less effective against the Delta variant in these patients, compared to other strains.
The authors warned in their paper: “Compromised vaccine efficacy against the highly fit and immune evasive B.1.617.2 Delta variant warrants continued infection control measures in the post-vaccination era.”
Scientists have been sounding the alarm on the Delta variant, following worrying reports about the long-term efficacy of Covid vaccines.
Data published in Israel, for instance, suggests protection against the virus effectively “vanishes” about six months after being jabbed.
However, vaccines are still seen as the quickest way out of the pandemic and there are no plans in place for another lockdown here in the UK.
It was reported this week the Government has been considering a brief lockdown during October’s half-term school holiday.
An official spokesman for the Prime Minister has since confirmed this is not the case but the Government has not entirely ruled out a firebreak lockdown either.
He said: “We have retained contingency plans as part of responsible planning for a range of scenarios, but these kind of measures would only be reintroduced as a last resort to prevent unsustainable pressure on our NHS.
“I think we’ve been clear throughout that we will take action, and indeed we have done when necessary to protect our NHS.”
According to a report in the i newspaper, an anonymous insider within the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) has said plans had been drawn up as a result of a recent spike in hospitalisations.
The source said: “It would be sensible to have contingency plans, and if a lockdown is required, to time it so that it has minimal economic and societal impact.
“We are going to be at a peak, albeit an extended peak, quite soon, so it’s not really the same situation as last year, when failure to reduce prevalence would have resulted in collapse of the NHS and people dying in car parks.
“Hospitals might be overflowing before deaths reach the same level. Acting early will prevent this level.”
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