Bristol vaccine expert says it's 'too soon' to predict impact of new Covid variant

Professor Adam Finn says it's still too early to tell if restrictions need to be imposed
Professor Adam Finn says it is still too early to tell if restrictions need to be imposed Credit: ITV West Country

A Government advisor who is an expert in vaccines has said it is "very hard" to make predictions on how a new Covid variant could impact the UK.

Professor Adam Finn, who works at Bristol University, has been advising the Government on vaccines throughout the pandemic.

He says uncertainty around a new Covid variant - which one senior health expert says is "the worst variant" so far - means it is hard to predict if it will cause serious problems or spark more restrictions.

"Variants pop up all the time but this one has caused quite a few cases in one area of South Africa," he told ITV News.

"What’s really alarming people is that it has a lot of mutations in its genetic code, particularly in the part of the spike protein that we used in the vaccines.

  • Watch Professor Adam Finn's interview

"This raises the possibility that it might be able to evade the immunity that many of us have now got because we’ve been vaccinated."

The new variant - formally known as B.1.1.529 - was first identified in Botswana in southern Africa on November 11.

The variant has not yet been given the title "variant of concern" in the UK, but one senior UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) expert described it as "the worst variant we have seen so far".

Belgium became the first European country to announce a case of the variant on Friday 26 November.

Professor Adam Finn told ITV News: "This could all turn out to be a false alarm and I think we’re all hoping for that.

The new variant has 32 mutations which is prompting fears it may evade the vaccines' immunity

"The one thing that’s really drawn attention to this one, apart from the fact that there have been quite a few cases in this one area of South Africa, is these very numerous changes in the genetic code.

"Normally we see one or two, maybe three or four changes in a new variant, but there are 32 mutations just in the S-protein alone. It’s really very different from the viruses we’ve seen so far.

"I think there is a lot of uncertainty around this. We need to know more about how transmissible this virus is, how far it’s spread and how much serious disease it’s causing .

"Most importantly we need to understand better whether it is able to evade the immunity we’ve got from the existing vaccines.

"Until we have more certainty about that, it’s very hard to make predictions whether we’re going to see serious problems or more restrictions."

  • Listen to ITV News' coronavirus podcast