According to English Health Secretary, Savid Javid, this morning, the new B11529 variant, identified only 3 days ago in South Africa, has twice the number of mutations as the Delta variant and may be more resistant to the existing vaccines.
Notably, we hear that the new variant has around 30 changes to the spike protein which the virus uses to break into human cells making it dramatically different from the Wuhan strain on which all current vaccines are based.
Well, not entirely and significantly.
The French Valneva vaccine, developed in Livingston in Scotland, and then a contract for it cancelled by the UK Government, in September, ‘for commercial reasons’, does not simply target the protein spike:
Rather than induce an immune response that targets just the spike protein of the coronavirus, the Valneva vaccine, also known as VLA2001, stimulates an immune response to the entire virus, and that might just give it an edge over its competitors.
It is different in that it uses the tried and tested method of taking the whole of the coronavirus and inactivating it so that it can no longer cause illness. It then combines with an adjuvant, a substance that helps it enter human cells effectively.
A similar technique is used to make flu and polio vaccines. The idea is that by introducing a whole coronavirus into the human body, albeit one which has been inactivated and cannot cause illness, the immune system will recognise the whole virus as foreign and not just the spike proteins. This will give a much broader immune response and increase the memory cells that can recognise different parts of the virus should the vaccinated individual become infected with the real coronavirus.
The company say the advantage to this is that should any mutations arise on the spike protein that render it unrecognisable to the vaccine, the Valneva-induced immune response is broad enough to be able to recognise other parts of the virus so the immune reaction will still be effective.
Is this another clumsy, adolescent, Johnson move which may now come back to bite us all?