Epidemiologist Dr Chris Barbara told Newsbook.com.mt that the Covid-19 variant has mutated in three identifiable ways. These mutations make it stronger but, stressed the scientist, they do not affect the protein which is the basis of the vaccine. This means that vaccination is still a viable option.
Dr Barbara explained that viruses are non-living organisms since they do not carry out the seven functions of a living being. They do however replicate. In replication, said the scientist, the information they contain changes: parts are improved, and parts are deleted. In this case, said Dr Barbara, three main changes have occurred. He said that the changes are normally given numbers.
- N501Y – Dr Barbara said that through this change, the virus seems to have achieved more affinity to the receptor. This means that the virus has become more infectious. Dr Barbara said that published research is showing a 70% increase in infectivity. He cautioned that the data needs to be peer-reviewed but it is still significant.
- Deletion of 69-70 – Dr Barbara explained that this means that the virus has adapted in a way which can help it to by-pass the human immune system. The deletion affected the ability of the virus to recognise the immune system in the human body. Without this information, the virus escapes the human immune system.
- P681h – this change is the least studied but, according to Dr Barbara it deals with the virulence of the virus. This change has made the virus more aggressive.
Is it in Malta?
Dr Barbara said that Malta is currently sequencing (studying) samples from persons who have tested positive to Covid-19 and who are known to have visited areas in the UK and Italy who are affected by the mutant virus. This sequencing will show whether the variant has actually reached Malta or not.
But what about the vaccine?
The vaccine is based on a protein which, said the scientist, has not been affected by these mutations. Dr Barbara said that the vaccine is still viable at the moment. He strongly recommended the least contact possible to inhibit the chances of the virus to replicate and mutate. He said that ignoring socialisation and social distancing rules is playing with fire since the greater the human contact, the more opportunity the virus will have to spread and change