Story at a glance
- Nadhim Zahawi, U.K.’s vaccine minister, said there are about 4,000 coronavirus variants around the world.
- He said Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca are working to improve their vaccines for any variant if necessary.
- Zahawi said vaccines currently being administered around the world and in the U.S. would likely provide adequate protection against the strains.
There are around 4,000 variants of the coronavirus that cause COVID-19 currently circulating around the world, and British health officials are cataloguing them to update vaccines if necessary, the U.K.’s vaccine minister said Thursday.
“All manufacturers, Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, Oxford-AstraZeneca and others, are looking at how they can improve their vaccine to make sure that we are ready for any variant ... there about 4,000 variants around the world of COVID now,” Nadhim Zahawi told Sky News Thursday.
“We have the largest genome sequencing industry — we have about 50 percent of the world’s genome sequencing industry — and we are keeping a library of all the variants so that we are ready to be able to respond, whether in the autumn or beyond, to any challenge the virus may present, and produce the next vaccine so we can always protect the United Kingdom and of course the rest of the world as well,” Zahawi said.
While the vast majority of mutations do not affect the virus’s ability to spread or cause disease, variants first identified in the U.K., South Africa and Brazil have shown to be more infectious, and there’s been some data indicating current vaccines may provide less protection against the South African variant. Drugmaker AstraZeneca announced Wednesday it was working on developing the next generation of vaccines to protect against rapidly spreading variants and it could be ready by fall.
But Zahawi said vaccines currently being administered around the world and in the U.S. would provide adequate protection against the strains.
“It’s very unlikely that the current vaccine won’t be effective on the variants ... especially when it comes to severe illness and hospitalization,” Zahawi said.
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