According to news reports, there are a handful of recorded instances where the UK coronavirus variant has developed a mutation that may make it impervious to current vaccines.
More Contagious Variant
The variant, known as B.1.1.7, was first discovered in the U.K. in September 2020 and has since spread around the world. This variant is more contagious than earlier versions of the coronavirus.
On Monday, officials in the United Kingdom citing government documents revealed that, out of about 214,000 samples of the variant that underwent genetic sequencing, they had identified 11 samples that had acquired a mutation known as E484K.
This mutation has been previously observed, notably in another coronavirus variant called B.1.351, which was first identified in South Africa in October 2020. Officials are alarmed about this mutation because it could negatively impact the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines. More worryingly, data observed from several vaccine makers including Johnson & Johnson and Novavax, have discovered that their COVID-19 vaccines were less effective in South Africa, where B.1.351 is pervasive.
It has been reported that the E484K mutation may erode the ability of certain antibodies to neutralize, the virus before it can permeate cells.
However, the New York Times has reported that the appearance of strains of the E484K mutation in the UK variant will not automatically result in the variant becoming more contagious and resistant to vaccines. The reason for this is the difference in the genetic makeup of the variant alongside all other mutations it carries will ensure that it doesn't have the same impact in the UK variant as it has on the South African variant.
STAT news has also revealed that variants with this mutation are likely to spread faster in populations where a lot of people have been infected with the disease, making it more likely for people with prior antibodies to get reinfected.