Kent coronavirus variant is no more deadly than original strain, PHE study finds
The Kent coronavirus variant is no more deadly than the original strain, an official study has found.
Public Health England’s analysis of more than 5,500 Covid patients in the second wave found there was “no difference” in death rates between the strains in the month after they became infected.
However, the agency found that people who caught the Kent B.1.1.7 variant were one-third more likely to receive hospital treatment than those infected with the older version, although the risk remained small for the majority of people.
Among the researchers behind the study were ‘Professor Lockdown’ Neil Ferguson, the SAGE scientist whose bleak predictions of the first wave plunged the country into the first stop, and Dr. Susan Hopkins, one of PHE’s foremost epidemiologists.
The finding comes just months after No10 used a dramatic press conference to warn the public that the Kent variant was at least 30 percent more deadly.
Ministers claimed their January shock announcement was justified because eight independent studies submitted to SAGE had indicated increased lethality.
But the government was accused of jumping the gun before there was any hard evidence and scaring the public into complying with the third lockdown.
It is difficult to compare death rates between the first and second waves, to measure the impact of the different variants, because many people have not been tested in the first wave, which means that the ratio between infections and deaths is incorrect.
Independent scientists told MailOnline today that the latest PHE study was an ‘outlier’ and pointed out that several other recent studies had concluded that B.1.1.7 was more deadly.
Dr. Simon Clarke, cellular microbiologist at Reading University, said, “As things stand, this article is in the minority, it’s an outlier.”
He also questioned the finding that the variant increases hospital risk, but not mortality, adding, “I don’t see how that could be true.”
A SAGE article published in January cited three studies of the Kent strain: a London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine study (left) based on 2,583 deaths that identified the risk of death within 28 days of the test for the mutant strain said compared to non-mutant strains was 35% times higher A study by Imperial College London (center) of the case fatality rate of the new mutant strain that found that the risk of death was 36% times higher. the University of Exeter (right) suggested that the risk of death could be 91% higher. Both the Exeter and Imperial studies were based on only 8% of deaths during the study period
The PHE study, yet to be published, looked at more than 5,500 people in England who tested positive for the virus between October and December last year.
About half were infected with the original strain and the others had B.1.1.7.
A total of 131 required hospital treatment and 76 died within 28 days of their test.
What do we know about the Kent variant?
Where did it come from? The variant was first found in Kent and can be traced back to September 2020. Scientists noticed that it spread in November and was revealed to the public in December.
What makes it new? The variant has a series of mutations that change the shape of the spike protein on the outside. The main one is known as N501Y. This makes it appear to be better able to attach to cells in the body, making it more likely to cause infection and spread more quickly.
How did that happen? Viruses, especially those that spread so quickly and in such large numbers, are constantly mutating. In order to reproduce, they basically force living cells to copy and paste the viral genetic code, and this can contain errors that lead to slightly different versions of the virus. Often times, these mutations don’t make a difference, but if they make the virus stronger, they can last for generations and become the norm.
What can we do about it? Not much. People who contract the virus don’t know what type they have, and it will still cause the same symptoms and illness. Officials can try to contain it by sealing off the areas where it is most common, but if it is stronger than other versions of the virus, it will eventually spread and become dominant as long as people continue to travel.
Will our vaccines still work? Yes, any research into the effects of the jabs on the strain shows that they are very effective.
Initially, the researchers said there was no evidence of a link between the Kent tribe and an increased likelihood of hospital care.
But after adjusting for age, gender, ethnicity, underlying health conditions, and other Covid risk factors, they found a 34 percent increased risk.
Writing in the study, the researchers said, ‘We observed an increased risk in hospital admission associated with the variant compared to wild-type cases.
“However, no significant difference in mortality was observed.”
Dr. Clarke said it was not immediately clear how the Kent variant could increase a person’s chances of hospitalization, but not of killing it.
He told MailOnline: ‘I don’t see how that can happen unless it is [the Kent strain] is to hospitalize people with a milder infection.
It’s not clear how the virus could be serious enough to put you in the hospital, but not severe enough to kill you.
“You could say it gives you a disease that responds better to treatment once you get to the hospital, but I haven’t seen any data for that.”
Dr. Clarke cautioned that the results did not give him confidence that B.1.1.7 was no more deadly than the original Covid, stressing that several studies had found the opposite.
His comments were echoed by Professor Paul Hunter, an epidemiologist at the University of East Anglia.
He told MailOnline: ‘There are other studies that have concluded otherwise …
For me, the major weakness of this new paper is that it doesn’t really discuss its findings in relation to previous studies and why it has different conclusions.
So I don’t think this is definitive. We need to see all the data and the various studies. ‘
It comes after a large study previously claimed that the Kent variant was 64 percent more deadly than previous versions of the virus.
The research, conducted by academics at the universities of Exeter, Bristol, Warwick and Lancaster, was published in the British Medical JournalIt looked at data from about 55,000 Britons.
Boris Johnson, Sir Patrick Vallance and Professor Chris Whitty told a press conference in Downing Street in January that early data suggested the variant could increase the risk of death for a 60-year-old man from 1 percent to 1.3 percent.
But confusion grew after the claims, with a senior Public Health England boss downplaying the fears and insisting that it was not “absolutely clear” whether it was more deadly.
SAGE then published the articles they used to make their estimate, which found that mortality risk estimates varied greatly.
The Kent variant dates from September 2020 and was responsible for most of the second wave, while older variants from Wuhan and Spain caused the first wave.