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Study shows UK coronavirus variant with potentially vaccine-resistant mutation

Study shows UK coronavirus variant with potentially vaccine-resistant mutation
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A variant of the coronavirus first found in the United Kingdom has gained a mutation that could make it more resistant to vaccines, according to a new analysis from Public Health England.

The mutation, known as E484K, is linked to strains in Brazil and South Africa that have proved more resistant to existing vaccines.

According to the analysis, estimated rates for cases with the mutation are 25 to 40 percent higher than estimated attack rates for other strains.

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The variant, known as B.1.1.7, was first discovered in December and spread rapidly across the U.K. It has since turned up in 72 countries. It is much more transmissible than other strains, and there is some evidence it could cause more deaths.

In the U.S., the variant has been discovered in 32 states, though experts believe it is likely much more widespread and could become the dominant strain by March.

The existing vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer are effective against the B.1.1.7 strain, but the variant found in South Africa is more problematic. Trial data from Johnson & Johnson and Novavax show their COVID-19 vaccines are not as effective against it.

That South African variant known as B.1.351 has been reported in 31 countries and at least two states so far. 

According to Public Health England, preliminary investigation has found the E484K mutation appearing more than once among the B.1.1.7 variants.

If that's the case, it is a sign that the mutation is a relatively easy way for the virus to gain an advantage. 

Experts say the best way to prevent further mutations and more potentially dangerous variants is for people to get vaccinated as quickly as possible, because more immune people means less chance for the virus to spread and evolve. 

Vaccines can be updated to specifically address that mutation, and mRNA vaccines — which include the Pfizer and Moderna products — are particularly suitable for updating.