The variant—which is now under closer investigation—was found in 38 people since December, according to a statement from Public Health England (PHE).
“The set of mutations includes the E484K spike protein mutation, which is present on a number of other variants of concern and variants under investigation,” a PHE statement says.
That spike protein mutation is found in the South Africa and Brazil variants of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) virus, also known as the novel coronavirus.
Studies show that while vaccines are effective against the South African variant, it is with less potency than with the “standard” variants or the UK variant.
Professor Yvonne Doyle, Medical Director at PHE said, “PHE is monitoring data about emerging variants very closely and where necessary public health interventions are being undertaken, such as extra testing and enhanced contact tracing.”
“There is currently no evidence that this set of mutations causes more severe illness or increased transmissibility.”
Of the 38 cases, 36 were found in England and 2 in Wales, going back to December. It has been identified in other countries, including the United States, Denmark, and Nigeria.
The UK has been a world leader in genomic sequencing of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, meaning that it may be picking up on changes occurring globally rather than revealing phenomena unique to the UK.
Health officials emphasised that there is no evidence that the South African variant is more deadly or harmful. They also note that vaccines are still effective against it.
Novavax recently announced that initial trials showed its vaccine was 89 percent effective in the UK, where the more transmissible strain originating in Kent is now predominant. A less extensive trial in South Africa—where the VOC-202012/02 variant is dominant—suggested an effectiveness of around 60 percent.
Vaccine manufacturers have previously said that they believe they can tweak the design of their products to combat emerging variants with a turnaround of around six weeks.
Lawrence Young, a virologist and professor of molecular oncology at the University of Warwick, said previously, “There is also concern that the South African variant might be able to more efficiently re-infect individuals who have previously been infected with the original form of the virus. This is likely to be due, in part, to the E484K mutation which may weaken the immune response and also impact the longevity of the neutralising antibody response.”