Fears striking new Covid strain in UK will make vaccine less effective

A new coronavirus variant is spreading throughout the UK and it is the "most striking strain of Covid-19 since Omicron" according to scientists.

The variant called Pirola has a high number of mutations, sparking fears that it could evade vaccines and be more transmittable.

In a bid to get ahead of the spread, the UK government has brought forward the autumn booster programme.

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Other scientists are calling for the return of masks in certain areas, such as hospitals and GP surgeries.

In a briefing on Friday (September 8), the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) confirmed an outbreak at a care home in Norfolk.

They added that though it is too early to know for sure, other cases across the UK suggest there was likely to be community transmission of the strain.

At the end of last month 33 out of 38 residents in the care home tested positive for the virus as well as 12 members of staff, said the UKHSA.

It was found that 22 of the residents and six members of staff had the new Pirola (BA.2.86) variant.

There have been no deaths, but one resident needed hospital treatment.

Pirola descended from Omicron but has 35 mutations on the spike protein, which the vaccine is designed to target.

"Pirola has made people sit up because of the unusually large number of mutations," Professor Jonathan Ball, a virologist at the University of Nottingham, told MailOnline.

"Viruses naturally mutate to survive. But when there's 30 or more mutations, scientists need to ask what that means. Does it make vaccines less effective, could it transmit more easily than Omicron and does it cause more serious disease?"

There are also mutations that might help Pirola evade the natural protection we have from our immune system.

Some scientists fear this could mean we have less immunity, leading to large waves of infection and serious illness.

This is exacerbated by the fact sufferers wonโ€™t know if they have the new variant or not, as the symptoms are nearly identical to the other forms of the virus.

Dr Renu Bindra, the UKHSA incident director, said: โ€œIt is clear that there is some degree of widespread community transmission, both in the UK and globally, and we are working to ascertain the full extent of this.

โ€œIn the meantime, it remains vital that all those eligible come forward to receive their autumn vaccine as soon as it is offered to them.โ€

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