Beta variant of COVID-19: everything you need to know

The World Health Organization and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have designated Beta as a “variant of concern” (REUTERS)

Viruses evolve. SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, is no exception. So the emergence of variants is not surprising, and not all genetic mutations pose a serious threat.

England lifted nearly all of its pandemic restrictions on Monday, which some Britons have hailed as the “day of freedom”. However, the British government did one notable exception: people traveling to England from France must continue to be quarantined upon arrival, even if they are fully vaccinated.

The rule, announced Friday, was driven concerns about the presence of the Beta variant of the coronavirus in France and it is intended to be a precautionary measure, authorities said.

“While vaccines are helping us turn the tables against this virus, we must continue to act with caution ”, said the doctor Jenny Harries, executive director of the UK Health Security Agency, it’s a statement on Friday. “That means maintaining our defenses against new variants and protecting our hard-earned progress through the exceptional launch of the vaccine.”

Here are the answers to some of the most common questions about the Beta variant.

What is the Beta variant?

The Beta variant, formerly known as B.1.351, was first detected in South Africa last year (REUTERS)
The Beta variant, formerly known as B.1.351, was first detected in South Africa last year (REUTERS)

The variant Beta, formerly known as B.1.351, was first detected in South Africa last year. Contains various mutations, in a protein called pico, that help the virus to bind more closely to human cells.

Also contains the E484K mutation, sometimes known as the mutation “Eek”, which appears to help the virus partially evade the antibodies. This mutation has arisen independently in multiple variants, included Gamma, which arose in Brazil, and in some samples of Alpha, which was first identified in Britain.

The World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have designated Beta as a “variant of concern.”

Why is it worrisome?

Beta's ability to bind tightly to human cells can also make it more transmissible;  the CDC notes that it appears to be about 50 percent more infectious than the original strain of the virus.  However, it does not appear to be as contagious as Delta (REUTERS)
Beta’s ability to bind tightly to human cells can also make it more transmissible; the CDC notes that it appears to be about 50 percent more infectious than the original strain of the virus. However, it does not appear to be as contagious as Delta (REUTERS)

Scientists and health officials worried about Beta because It spread rapidly through South Africa and research indicated that some vaccines were less powerful against it.

In February, for example, South Africa stopped using the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine after clinical trials suggested the vaccine did not provide good protection against mild to moderate illness caused by Beta. (However, subsequent research has suggested that several licensed vaccines provide strong protection against severe disease caused by the variant). Britain has relied heavily on the vaccine AstraZeneca, which may explain your caution with Beta.

Some treatments with monoclonal antibodies they are also less effective against the variant, although there are other authorized antibody treatments that seem to work fine against her.

Beta’s ability to bind strongly to human cells also it can make it more communicable; the CDC they point out what appears to be about 50 percent more infectious than the original strain of the virus. However, it does not appear to be as contagious as Delta.

Where is it common?

During the last four weeks, the variant has represented 3.7 percent of virus samples sequenced in France (REUTERS)
During the last four weeks, the variant has represented 3.7 percent of virus samples sequenced in France (REUTERS)

Even if its presence has been reported in 123 countries, the variant go on being much less frequent than Delta.

Initially, Beta spread widely across South Africa, where ever rrepresented more than 95 percent of virus samples sequenced in the country.

However, it is no longer so dominant. In the last four weeks, Beta has accounted for only 5.6 percent of the virus samples sequenced in South Africa, according to GISAID, a repository of viral genomes. (This decrease is probably due to the arrival of the highly contagious Delta variant, which now represents 77.6 percent of the sequences).

For the past four weeks, the variant has also represented 3.7 percent of virus samples sequenced in France, according to GISAID. It is especially common in Reunion, a French island in the Indian Ocean where Beta represents 31.2 percent of the sequences.

Beta it’s not common in the U.S, where represents only 0.1 percent of infections, according to CDC estimates. It has been detected in Britain, but it represents a negligible proportion of infections there.

Do Beta Vaccines Work?

Studies in Qatar, where the Beta variant once accounted for half of all infections, have found that two doses of the Pfizer vaccine are 72 to 75 percent effective in preventing infection with Beta, a lower degree of protection. than that provided by inoculations against other variants (REUTERS)
Studies in Qatar, where the Beta variant once accounted for half of all infections, have found that two doses of the Pfizer vaccine are 72 to 75 percent effective in preventing infection with Beta, a lower degree of protection. than that provided by inoculations against other variants (REUTERS)

Vaccines they appear to be less powerful against Beta than against other versions of the virus. But studies suggest that two doses of various widely used vaccines should offer robust protection.

The studies on Qatar, where the Beta variant once accounted for half of all infections, they have found that two doses of the Pfizer vaccine are 72 to 75 percent effective in preventing Beta infection, a lower degree of protection than that provided by inoculations against other variants. But both vaccines Pfizer What Modern they provided strong protection against the worst results; a full course of either vaccine was more than 95 percent effective in preventing serious illness and death.

“Although the efficacy of Pfizer it was only 75 percent against Beta and therefore infections are not uncommon, these sare mild and it is very rare for someone fully vaccinated to require serious hospitalization or die after a Beta infection ”, assured in dialogue with The New York Times Laith Abu-Raddad, infectious disease epidemiologist of Weill Cornell Medicine-Qatar who directed both studies.

In additional good news, he added, there are also no “signs” that the protection these vaccines provide against beta has diminished in the first few months after the injections. On a clinical trial in South Africa, performed when Beta was dominant, the vaccine Johnson & Johnson had an efficacy rate of 64 percent in general, but an efficacy of the 82 percent in the prevention of serious diseases.

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