Yes, there is another variant in the UK that MAY be increasing transmissibility. Cases are increasing at exponential rate in Wales. But there are a few things to keep in mind…
To mutate and change is what viruses do. Most of the time it’s a meaningless tweak. Sometimes the virus gets worse at infecting us and the new variant just dies out.
Sometimes the virus just gets lucky, in that a new variant hits the right people at the right time. This happened in Spain during the summer. Headlines called it the the “Spanish strain”, but the exponential cases was explained by simply people catching it on vacation and bringing it home. It wasn’t due to the new variant. It’s important to keep in mind that the virus spreads with political and social contexts in the background. The UK may be placing the blame of new Christmas shutdowns on science, rather than taking the blame of soaring cases due to lax policies.
Sometimes, though, viruses do find a new winning formula. But, we honestly don’t have the data yet to know the full picture. The World Health Organization is working on it. It will take laboratory experiments to figure out if this variant really is a better spreader than all the others.
Will this impact the effectiveness of the vaccine? Probably not. It takes a collection of mutations to impact vaccines. Vaccines are made with mutations in mind. This UK variant has a mutation on the spike protein of the virus. It’s not the first time we’ve seen a mutation on the spike protein. This gains the attention of scientists, though, because the spike is the virus’s key to unlock the door into our cells. Any changes made to that key can make it easier for the virus to get inside. This mutation is certainly something to keep an eye on.
As one professor (McNally) said: “We know there’s a variant, we know nothing about what that means biologically…It is far too early to make any inference on how important this may or may not be.”
So, in the meantime, everyone take a big, deep breath. Including those in charge of news headlines. Keep doing what you’re doing. This has no implications (yet) on how we should change behavior. Keep washing those hands, keeping your distance, and wearing masks.