The British Government is monitoring a mutation of the so-called UK variant of coronavirus, which UK Scientific Adviser, Patrick Vallance has warned may reduce the effectiveness of vaccines.
"It is somewhat more likely that the mutation, which is known as E484K, will be slightly different from the immune system, so we must monitor it. It has just come to our notice and the same will happen in other places.” he said and stressed the importance of minimising the number of infections to reduce the chances of new, dangerous mutations.
The British Public Health Agency, or PHE has confirmed 21 cases of the new mutation from the B117 variant, which is considered more contagious than the original SARS-CoV-2 and was first detected in the UK last September.
The first samples of the E484K mutation were identified in the Bristol area and at least four more have been diagnosed in the Manchester area.
The UK is one of the countries that sequences the most genomes of the virus in search of alterations that can change its behaviour and around 20,000 samples are being analysed every week. Britain has also offered help to other countries boost their genomics programs.
Faced with the risk of importing variants that could potentially reduce the effects of vaccines, UK travel restrictions are being tightened and from Monday and everyone arriving from 33 risk countries will be forced to quarantine in a hotel for 10 days.
More than 13 million British residents have already received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine and just over half a million have also had their second jab.
The World Health Organisation has said it's in favour of giving the AstraZeneca vaccine to people over 65 and supports delaying the second dose for up to twelve weeks, which is what is already being done in the UK.