A new mutation of the Delta variant which could make it more resistant to vaccines has been identified in the UK.
Some 19 cases of Delta with E484K, the mutation associated with immune escape in other variants, have been found, including 17 in England and two in Scotland.
Although case numbers are very low, the presence of E484K – known in virology circles as “Eeek” because of its vaccine-dodging qualities – is a cause for concern and Public Health England have classed it as a “signal under investigation”.
The latest technical briefing paper on Delta by PHE say changes at position 484 on the covid genome are “potentially antigenically significant” – meaning it could make the virus more resistant to current vaccines.
However all vaccines in the UK offer strong protection against Delta and while this mutation could potentially blunt their effect it would not make them ineffective.
The E484K mutation is present in the Beta virus first identified in South Africa, which triggered surge testing where it was found in the UK earlier this year due to its concerning properties, as well as in two other strains of B1617, the parent lineage of the Delta variant. All three did not have the same highly contagious properties as Delta.
But scientists have warned for some time that a combination of highly transmissible Delta with an immune escape mutation could pose a threat to vaccines.