India variant: Expert discusses vaccines that are 'effective'
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The India variant has been detected in several areas of the UK in recent days, prompting surge testing and calls on the Government to act quickly to stop the spread, which has been responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths in India. Scientists have been calling for “surge vaccinations” in areas that have seen a rise in the number of India variant coronavirus infections, with cases in UK more than doubled to 1,313, according to Public Health England.
The surge in cases has led to speculation that restrictions could be reimposed on a local or national level.
There is still debate about how transmissible the new variant is, and it is not yet known if it causes more severe disease or whether it is in any way resistant to current vaccines.
Cases of the Indian variant have been recorded in areas including London, Bolton, Tyneside and Nottingham.
Mobile testing sites have been set up in Bolton and more doses of vaccines have been delivered to the town.
Is the India variant resistant to vaccines?
There is currently no evidence the variant first identified in India “escapes the vaccines”, according to vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi.
He told Sky News: “At the moment we have no evidence that it escapes the vaccines or is more severe in its impact on people.”
The vaccines minister also said young people in badly affected areas could be vaccinated sooner.
He said: “The clinicians will look at all of this to see how we can flex the vaccination programme to make it as effective as possible to deal with this surge in this variant, the B1617.2.
“They will make those decisions and we will be ready to implement, whether it’s vaccinating younger cohorts.”
Mr Zahawi also said “we will take nothing off the table” when asked if local lockdowns are being considered by officials in areas with a surge of the variant first identified in India.
Speaking to the BBC, he said: “Over a year of dealing with this pandemic suggests that the most effective way of dealing with this, because we have had such a successful vaccination programme, is the surge testing by postcode, the genome sequencing and isolation, so that is our focus, that is our priority.
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“But we will take nothing off the table, whether it is regional or national further measures that we would need to take, we will deal with this.”
However, Paul Hunter, professor in medicine at the University of East Anglia, said the June 21 lockdown lifting could be in doubt if the Indian variant causes increases in cases in elderly people and a rise in people needing hospital care.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I think the big question is how many of people who are getting the Indian variant will end up requiring hospitalisation.
“And at the moment the hospitalisation rate doesn’t seem to be increasing yet, although if this becomes much more common we’ll almost certainly see some increase, so I think it’s certainly a concern.
“I think the step four is in doubt in June now, but we really need to see what impact it has on severe disease before we can really be certain.”
Asked why June 21 could be in doubt, he said: “Well, because if the epidemic continues to increase, if the Indian variant of the epidemic continues to increase at the same rate as it has over recent weeks, we’re going to have a huge number of cases by June.
“The issue though is that because it seems to be spreading in unvaccinated younger people at the moment, and not yet that much more active in older people, maybe we’ll be able to weather it and we’ll still be able to have the step four in June.
“But if that increases cases in the elderly and starts to increase hospitalisations, and puts pressure on the NHS again, then I think step four would be in doubt.”
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