With COVID-19 vaccine rollout in full force and daily new cases and deaths finally starting to trend down in the world, unpredictable viral mutations are one of the last threats that could derail the fight against the pandemic.
In study published on Monday, researchers at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland said that a new COVID variant, called B1525, carries a mutation known as E484K in the coronavirus’ spike protein, which is a key gateway for the virus to enter human cells. The same mutation is present in three previously discovered COVID variants: the B117 variant first detected in the U.K. in December, the B1351 variant first found in South Africa and the B1128 variant from Brazil.
Countries in which the new variant has been detected include the U.S., Canada, Denmark, Britain, France, Belgium, Spain, Finland, Nigeria, Ghana, Jordan, Australia and Singapore. Britain has the highest infection rate, with 39 people tested positive as of Tuesday.
“We don’t yet know how well this variant will spread, but if it is successful, it can be presumed that immunity from any vaccine or previous infection will be blunted,” Dr. Simon Clarke, an expert in cellular microbiology from the University of Reading, told The Guardian.
The good news, though, is that the fact that the E484K mutation is found in multiple dangerous COVID-19 variants might give scientists some direction in developing the next-generation vaccines.