The "UK variant" of SARS-CoV-2

This update is a little different from previous updates. I generally try to cover important concepts in plain language, for maximum clarity and understanding by the most people.

Today, I wanted to just point you to some fairly raw science about the emergence and spread of a SARS-CoV-2 variant called B.1.1.7. It may be important, but we don’t know yet. You may have heard about it in the news, described as a mutation of the COVID-19 virus, spreading in the U.K.

If you’re interested in more depth, read this Twitter thread, from Muge Cevik, a clinician and scientist:

There are some great diagrams, and links to other articles — I suggest exploring them, too.

It is important for scientists to watch B.1.1.7 carefully, because it’s interesting in two ways:

  1. It has many more changes (mutations) accumulated than most variants, around 17 (depending on how you count), instead of usually no more than a few. (Trivia: there are 1,623 subvariants of the B.1.1.7 family as of December 15, 2020.)

  2. The changes may make this variant more infective (i.e., likely to spread) than other variants have been, which would lead to more cases and deaths, somewhat faster.

Scientists have a lot more data about how it’s different, where it has spread, and how fast. But we don’t have enough data yet to say much more, at a top level, than the two bullets above, and the couple of questions and answers below.

It’s important not to jump to additional conclusions that aren’t supported by data.

There are some natural questions scientists can answer just by the biology of it:

  1. What do we do differently? Nothing different; continue to prevent as many infections as possible with the same advice: masks, distance, hand hygiene, bubbles, travel restrictions, etc.

  2. Does this virus cause COVID-19, or something else? Is the disease worse? It’s still COVID-19, nothing different about the disease, except that the virus may infect people more easily. We need to wait for more data to develop to know one way or the other.

  3. Will the vaccines still work? Yes.

If you read the raw science and have questions about what it means, I’d like to try to explain. Reply to this email, or send me an email directly: kaminski@istori.com.