On 14 December 2020, authorities of the United Kingdom (UK) reported that a SARS-CoV-2 variant has been identified through viral genomic sequencing in 1,108 individuals as of 13 December 2020.
Given that the identified variant strain can be dated back to September 2020 in UK, it is likely this virus is circulating elsewhere. Further studies are needed to characterize if this variant strain is different in terms of virulence, transmissibility, and other characteristics. Given the many factors that contribute to transmission dynamics, there is not sufficient evidence yet to support that this strain or any other particular strain or mutation might be fully associated to an increased infectivity pattern or virulence or vaccine efficacy. We will continue to inform countries and the public as we learn more.
Therefore, more large-scale population studies are required in addition to the genomic surveillance of SARS-CoV-2. However, given the intense transmission and rapid spread in areas where the variant SARS-CoV-2 strain has been found, UK is undertaking further investigations.
The UK government has reported that there is no evidence at this stage to suggest the Covid-19 vaccines currently being rolled out across the country will not work against the new variant of coronavirus.
All viruses, including the SARS-CoV-2, change over time. There have so far been hundreds of variations of this virus identified worldwide and PAHO/WHO has been following them closely. So far, most changes of this virus have had little to no impact on how it transmits or the severity of disease it causes.
Since the initial genomic characterization of SARS-CoV-2, the virus has been divided into different genetic groups or clades. The occurrence of mutations is a natural and expected event within the evolution process of the virus. In fact, some specific mutations define the viral genetic groups currently circulating globally.