Variants of Concern
Bulletin 119 | Matt Fletcher
As we move through the pandemic, more SARS‐CoV‐2 variants continue to emerge. Most have no features of particular interest, but some emerge that are deemed “of concern” because of:
their speed of spread
the severity of illness they cause
the likelihood that they may “escape” the vaccines and / or infect those who have been previously infected.
The first variant of concern (VoC) that came to the attention of the wider public in the UK was B.1.1.7 (“Kent”) which we discussed in our December 2020 bulletin, "A tale of two variants".
This spread more quickly than existing strains, and is widely believed to been a key driver behind the second wave of infection and deaths seen in the UK as well as elsewhere in the world.
As the UK takes steps out of lockdown, we are seeing news about different VoCs, particularly B.1.617.2 which first emerged in India. In this note, we focus on B.1.617.2 but we recognise that there are currently five VoCs, and a further eight variants under investigation.
We conclude that B.1.617.2 does appear to be worthy of additional concern although it is still possible that additional data will show that the variant is not spreading significantly more quickly than existing variants.
We also note that, whilst this variant’s eventual impact in the UK may be muted due to the high level of vaccination in this country, countries with lower levels of vaccination will need to be vigilant about the importation and spread of this and similar variants.