Vaccine fears as Brazilian coronavirus variant hits Scotland

THREE cases of a Covid-19 ‘variant of concern’ first identified in Brazil, have been identified in Scotland, officials have confirmed.

Following their return to north east Scotland from Brazil, via Paris and London, three Scottish residents entered self-isolation and then subsequently tested positive for coronvirus, it has been confirmed.   These individuals then self-isolated for the required period of 10 days.

The tests were completed in early February and passed to the UK’s advanced sequencing capabilities programme which detected this new variant.

The Scottish Government say it is possible that this variant may respond less well to current vaccines but said that at this time there is a “high degree of uncertainty and clinical and trial data is awaited to understand this better”.

Due to the potential concerns around the Brazilian variant other passengers on the flight the three Scots were on, from London to Aberdeen are being contacted.

The three cases are not connected to three cases also identified in England.

Health protection teams, including local clinicians, have assessed each case and their contacts, and are arranging protective measures for this small number of potentially exposed individuals.

The Scottish Government said that in order to provide an extra layer of safety, teams are ensuring people who could have been infected by these first line contacts are also isolated and tested. This is to ensure all possible precautions are taken as we learn more about this particular variant.

Clinical and trial data continues to be assessed to examine how this new variant may respond to current COVID-19 vaccines.

The UK, South Africa and Brazil variants are believed to be much more contagious or easy to catch.

All three have undergone changes to their spike protein – the part of the virus which attaches to human cells.

As a result, they seem to be better at infecting cells and spreading.

Current vaccines were designed around earlier versions of coronavirus, but scientists believe they should still work against the new ones, although perhaps not quite as well.

Health secretary Jeane Freeman said: “The identification of this new variant is a concern but we are taking every possible precaution. We have identified these cases thanks to our use of advanced sequencing capabilities which means we are finding more variants and mutations than many other countries and are therefore able to take action quickly.

“This new variant demonstrates how serious Covid is and reinforces the need to minimise the spread of the virus. We would encourage everyone across the country to adhere to the necessary public health restrictions by staying at home except for essential purposes as this is the single best way of staying safe and stopping the spread of this virus. It is now also illegal for anyone to travel to or from Scotland unless it is for an essential reason.

“The Covid vaccination programme is one of three key ways we are working to beat this virus, along with our expanded testing programme to identify cases and break chains of transmission, and the important lockdown restrictions everyone in Scotland must follow. These three strands – following expert advice and guidance to suppress the virus, using our expanded testing programme to identify cases and break chains of transmission and rolling out vaccination as fast as supplies allow – are the three critical actions that will see us move, step by step, to protect the public, save lives and a brighter year ahead.”

 As a precautionary measure and to provide further insights, samples from any passenger on the London to Aberdeen flight who subsequently tested positive or was symptomatic are being urgently sequenced to determine whether any had acquired the new variant. 

Scotland and England are working together to ensure that a consistent UK approach is taken to managing such incidents.

This variant has been designated ‘of concern’ as it shares some important mutations with the variant first identified in South Africa (B.1.351), such as E484K and N501Y.

There is some data to suggest that this variant may be more likely to cause Covid-19 infections in people who have been vaccinated or who had been infected with one of the earlier strains of “wild-type” Covid-19.

The P1 Brazilian variant is a descendent of B.1.1.28 and was first detected in Japan but is most closely associated with the second wave epidemic in Manaus, Brazil.

Genomic sequencing of Scottish samples is undertaken as part of a UK programme. This programme continues to develop ensure faster turnaround times.

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