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New Bristol variant may infect people who have been vaccinated, expert warns

Connor Parker
·4-min read

Watch: Bristol variant may infect people who have been vaccinated, expert warns

A new COVID variant first detected in Bristol could infect people who have already been vaccinated, an expert has warned.

There have been 21 cases of the new variant confirmed in the UK, with most of them in Bristol, which has led to the government expanding testing in the city in order to stop it from spreading.

On Wednesday, the government declared the mutation “a variant of concern”.

There is still a lot of unknowns with the new strain but it is believed to have similar properties to the South African variant which has caused a lot of concern for the government.

Surge testing being carried out in Bristol in the wake of the discovery of the new variant. (PA)
Surge testing being carried out in Bristol in the wake of the discovery of the new variant. (PA)

Read more: Kent variant of coronavirus 'will probably sweep the world', warns top UK geneticist

Professor John Edmunds, from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, told ITV's Robert Peston: "I don't know whether the Bristol variant is any more transmissible than the Kent variant, I suspect it isn't.

"Where it has an advantage, potentially at least, is that it may be able to reinfect people who have been previously infected, or have been previously vaccinated – that's the real worry with that particular virus."

The government’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance has said that a new coronavirus variant found in Bristol was being monitored.

“The Bristol variant has got one of the changes that the South African variant has got as well. It is not surprising that it has happened and it will happen elsewhere as well,” he told a No 10 news conference.

“In getting that variant it does make it slightly more likely to look different to the immune system so we need to watch out for it. We need to keep on top and need to keep testing the vaccine effects in this situation.”

The spread of another variant will increase fears they could derail current plans for bringing the pandemic to an end once and for all.

The South African variant is thought to be more resistant to the vaccines and could cause people to still be infected, despite getting the jab.

Experts have warned it is very possible the strain is already quite widespread in the UK, after a study of about 2,000 people suggested the Oxford jab only offers minimal protection against mild disease of the South Africa variant.

At least 147 cases of the South African variant have so far been identified in the UK, with experts warning these are likely to be the “tip of the iceberg” due to the fact they are the result of random checks on 5% to 10% of all positive tests.

Read more: How strict are the UK's border controls compared with everyone else's?

The South African government has paused the rollout of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine after the study was published.

The government has downplayed South Africa's decision, pointing to the fact the study only contained young people.

The government has said the vaccine will eliminate severe cases of the disease that can lead to hospitalisation and death.

There are fears the spread of variants could delay the end of lockdown.

Sir Patrick Vallance said yesterday the end of lockdown would be done with “caution” and based on the data.

He said there were still a “significant number of people in high-risk groups” who had not been vaccinated.

Sir Patrick said: “Those people remain at risk and so it’s important we go cautiously in opening up, in order to be able to measure the effects.”

He added: “The virus isn’t going to be particularly interested in dates.”

Experts have said it essential to get infections down before opening up the country in order to reduce the risk of the spread and development of potentially risky variants.

This is one of the reasons it is likely lockdown will not end soon after all of the most vulnerable in society have been vaccinated.

Watch: What UK government COVID-19 support is available?