Important unknowns with B1.617.2 variant: UK to speed up vaccine second doses on variant concerns
London, May 14: UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Friday said there are still "important unknowns" related to the B1.617.2 variant of COVID-19 first detected in India for Britain, as he announced plans for the second dose of the vaccines to be accelerated from 12 to eight weeks for all over-50s to provide greater protection against it.
Addressing a Downing Street briefing to give an update on the new variant, Johnson said that so far it appears the B1.617.2 variant is more transmissible but it remains unknown by how much. He reiterated the "good news" that there is no evidence to suggest that the vaccines currently being administered would be less effective against the variant identified in India.
"There are some important unknowns with the B1.617.2 variant. If it is only marginally more transmissible, the [lockdown roadmap] plan can continue as expected, but if it is significantly more transmissible we will be facing some hard choices,' said Johnson.
'We are in a different position from the last time we faced a new variant, before Christmas,' he said, in reference to the so-called Kent variant detected in the county last year.
The position has changed as the National Health Service (NHS) vaccination programme has since been in full swing and it will now contact all over-50s due for a second dose within the new updated timetable of eight weeks.
However, the UK PM admitted that the race between the vaccine programme and the variant may be about to get 'tighter' as "further clusters" of the new variant have now been detected in different parts of Britain, with latest Public Health England (PHE) data indicating that four people have so far died in the UK from the B1.617.2 variant.
But Johnson stressed there is no evidence of 'unmanageable pressure on the NHS', as coronavirus cases remain at the lowest national levels since last year.
While confirming that the next stage of the lifting of lockdown restrictions allowing greater interactions indoors will go ahead from next Monday, he did indicate that the June 21 date set for a complete lockdown lift is likely to be reassessed based on data at the time.
Businesses will be allowed to open as planned, but the public is urged to get the vaccine when they are eligible, take tests regularly and self-isolate if they test positive.
"The variant could pose serious disruption to our progress. We may have to live with it for a very long time," Johnson said, as he once again repeated his message of "caution and common sense" for the public.
So far, the coronavirus has claimed 3,346,881 lives across the world, along with over 161 million cases, according to Johns Hopkins University.