Over the past week, a heavily mutated Covid variant has been identified which has been rapidly labelled a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organization. The new variant, named Omicron, has mutations that theoretically could help it to spread more quickly.
The Government has taken steps to curb the spread of the virus including re-introducing mask-wearing on public transport and in shops.
Stricter measures requiring people travelling to the UK to take a PCR test and isolate in the days following their arrival were also announced by the Government on Saturday.
While very little is known about the new variant, there has been speculation surrounding the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines in tackling it.
A piece for the Financial Times, notes that the chief executive of Moderna Stéphane Bancel has predicted that existing vaccines will be much less effective at tackling Omicron than earlier strains of coronavirus.
He adds that it would take months before pharmaceutical companies could manufacture new variant-specific jabs on a large scale.
He told the outlet: “There is no world, I think, where [the effectiveness] is the same level . . . we had with [the] Delta [variant].”
Piers Morgan quoted tweeted this article and noted that the question of whether the current vaccines work on the new variant is “key”.
The broadcaster wrote: “This is the key question: if the Covid vaccines work on Omicron, we can relax.
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“If they don’t, we have a massive problem. Good luck to all the world’s brilliant scientists as they work it out.”
The Moderna’s chief comments come amid a wider more upbeat conversation about the current vaccines’ capacity to tackle the strain.
These include Scott Gottlieb, a director of Pfizer and former commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration, who told CNBC there was a “reasonable degree of confidence in vaccine circles” that if a patient has been had both doses of their jabs, plus a booster, then they have “fairly good protection against this variant”.
While Joe Biden described Omicron as a “cause for concern, not a cause for panic”.
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The variant was first identified by scientists in South Africa on November 9.
These scientists have already begun to assess how well Covid vaccines hold up against Omicron, as pointed out by a follower of Piers.
The user with the screen name added Jason Musgrave added: “The scientists in South Africa have reported it gives mild symptoms only…I know it’s better to be safe than sorry but missing out this important point (deliberately) causes unnecessary hysteria. Give all the facts.”
Mr Morgan replied to the user by pointing out that there is still little known about the impact of the new variant on some groups of the population.
He said: “Yes, but the same SA scientists have also said the Omicron cases they’ve found so far were mostly young men.
“Nobody knows yet how it affects older people. If it turns out to be a rapid-infecting but weak variant for all ages, that could be Utopia for ending the pandemic.”
The Omicron variant has now been detected in a number of countries around the world including the UK, Germany, Italy and Austria.
The Government reports that there have been 11 identified cases in Britain, six of which are in Scotland.