UK variant develops mutation that could evade vaccines, experts say

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A mutation of the U.K. coronavirus variant known as B.1.1.7 that may be able to avert antibody protection has been detected in at least 11 samples in the U.K., The Washington Post reported Feb. 2. 

The mutation, E484K, changes the virus's spike protein, the target for vaccines and naturally produced antibodies. The mutation is not entirely new and has shown up sporadically in genomic sequences since early stages of the pandemic, though it's attracted recent attention since surfacing in other fast spreading variants in South Africa and Brazil. 

CNN on Feb. 2 cited a recent report from Public Health England that showed some of the 11 samples in which the E484K mutation was detected may not have spread from a single case and were instead contracted independently. This suggests the variant has the potential to become partially resistant to vaccine protection, or is more likely to spark reinfection among people who were previously infected, according to CNN. 

Studies indicate the mutation may explain why some vaccines appear less effective in South Africa, though more research is needed to confirm the suspicion. Novavax, for example, reported its vaccine was 89 percent effective in its phase 3 U.K. trial, but only 60 percent effective in a separate trial conducted in South Africa, suggesting the mutation is more widely spread there and capable of evading vaccine protection, CNN reported. 

Joseph Fauver, PhD, epidemiologist at New Haven, Conn.-based Yale School of Public Health, told CNN that the U.S. should keep an eye out for the mutation in its sequencing efforts. He said the reason the mutation is now popping up in the U.K. may be due to the country's "robust genomic surveillance program." 

More articles on public health:
What the CDC knows about the nation's first 13 million COVID-19 vaccine recipients
AstraZeneca vaccine cuts virus transmission; COVID-19 deaths fall in 25 states — 5 updates
Only 5% of COVID-19 vaccines given went to Black Americans

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