Brazil variant: Expert on P1 Manaus strain's impact on vaccine
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And Professor Deenan Pillay’s warning has been underlined by his Independent SAGE colleague, and former chief scientific adviser, Sir David King – who has admitted it is only a matter of time before the variants in question make themselves known in the UK. Prof Pillay, Professor of Virology at University College London, was speaking after the publication of a report last week suggested the P.2 variant identified in Brazil is altering itself to defeat antibodies in a development that would render vaccines less effective.
I think it needs to be taken very seriously
Professor Deenan Pillay
The study, authored by scientists including those at Brazil’s Department of Virology among others, has not yet been peer-reviewed – but has underlined the unpredictable nature of the situation in the South American country, which has recorded more than 13.5 million cases and more than 353,000 deaths.
Prof Pillay told Express.co.uk: “I think it needs to be taken very seriously.
“What we know is that this is a virus that continues to mutate and so variants will continue to exist and develop as long as ongoing transmission is occurring.
“And the converse is that if there is no transmission, then variants can’t emerge.
“And the second thing is that the world is a small place, and particularly now as border controls are starting to be loosened in the UK then, of course, there is a bigger risk of importation in the same way that the UK has exported its own variants to elsewhere in the world.
“So that’s why the current discussion about testing criteria for travel is going to be really important to look at to ensure that we limit as much as possible any importation of new variants.”
Referring to Brazil’s controversial President Jair Bolsonaro, Prof Pillay said Brazil’s strategy had been characterised by “denying Covid’s existence” and a consequent reluctance to impose lockdowns and other means of limiting its spread.
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He explained: “So you could see it as a sort of experiment of what could happen with this infection.
“The are many other sort of similar variants surging in Brazil and clearly there is the capacity for the vaccines, not to be fully effective against them and so it’s really essential that the vaccine manufacturers rapidly update their vaccines.”
Asked whether Brazil could currently be classified as a breeding ground for the virus given the relatively unfettered access it has had the Brazilian population, Prof Pillay said: “That’s a very reasonable characterisation.
“There is evidence that in fact there have been waves of infection that have infected a large number of people.
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“And they themselves then become develop antibodies and become naturally immune. But what seems to be happening is that new variants are mutating to reinfect those individuals who may have been immune to the previous version.”
Prof Pillay added: “There is very good evidence there that we shouldn’t let down our guard, even as we start to roll out the vaccine.
“We can’t get ourselves in a position where we say everything’s back to normal because there’s the risk is there for all to see.
“The lesson for us here in the UK must be that this is not just about vaccines sorting everything out for us.
“Together with vaccines, we’ve got to continue on to stay on our guard.
“There are going to have to be some more permanent changes to how we live our lives.”
Speaking today, Sir David he did not think it would be possible to stop the Brazilian variant from coming to the UK.
He told Sky News he supported a traffic light system for foreign travel, adding: “So if we’re talking about travelling directly to a country with a very low rate of the disease, and if the proper precautions are taken in that you’re fully tested or fully vaccinated, then I think it is quite feasible to allow people to travel overseas.
“But I think it should be on a very restricted basis.
“I think we know that the South African variant, for example, has come into this country. There’s a significant take up of it here.
“And the Brazilian variant – I don’t believe we can keep it out of the country.
“So the importance of the fine test, trace, isolate and support system just cannot be overestimated.”
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