MUTANT strains of coronavirus will continue to reinfect people every two to four years, a top scientist has warned.
Paul Hunter, professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia, said more variants would emerge even as the pandemic recedes – but not all of them would be a cause for concern.
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The World Health Organisation has currently identified three variants of ‘concern’ which could have significant public health implications if they become dominant.
These include the Kent strain – which is more transmissible – and the South Africa and Brazil variants, which experts fear could be more resistant to vaccines.
Prof Hunter said it was “very difficult to predict” how the virus will mutate, but stressed that future strains might not cause serious illness.
He urged the government to monitor the spread of new variants carefully to ensure it does not delay the planned reopening of the economy.
Prof Hunter told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We do know that new variants develop, that’s very obvious, and some new variants spread and become dominant.
“Many new variants just die out. This is to be expected, we know from other human coronaviruses that have been with us for decades, if not centuries, that these viruses gradually drift.
‘DIFFICULT TO PREDICT’
“Ultimately with the other human coronaviruses, we expect to get reinfected on average about every two to four years with the same virus.
“So we are likely to see that happen with coronavirus, and it doesn’t mean that we will head towards a lot of very severe diseases.
“But it’s been very difficult to predict exactly what will happen with coronaviruses as you never really know what each new variant will do.”
He added: “We do have to keep an eye on them and make sure they’re not going to be undermining the roadmap.”
Both the South Africa and Brazil strain contain the E484K mutation, which is thought to be associated with evading neutralising antibodies produced by the body against the virus.
Oxford scientists previously revealed that the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab would now have to be tweaked in order to be effective against the new variant.
But it was revealed today that over-70s would receive a booster shot in September under government plans to protect them against new variants.
Mr Zahawi said some people will be given three vaccination doses within the first 10 months of the jabs being in use.
Those in the top four priority groups for the original rollout – over 70s and frontline NHS and social care workers – will be the first to get the booster jabs, The Telegraph reports.
Mr Zahawi also told the paper that ministers were expecting up to eight vaccines to be available by the autumn, including one that could protect against three different Covid variants in a single jab.