Mutant Covid strain from South Africa ‘may defeat vaccines’, top professor warns

A top professor has warned the new South African coronavirus mutant strain may beat current vaccines.

Sir John Bell, regius professor of medicine at Oxford University, said it is more worrying than the Kent variant "by some margin".

He believes it is already in the UK – and it could take months to develop a new vaccine if it turns out to be resistant.

And he warned the UK will see "lots of variants" but urged Brits to stay calm.

Sir John, a member of the Government’s vaccine task force, said he thinks the current two Covid-19 jabs by Pfizer and Oxford/AstraZeneca would be effective against the Kent strain.

But he said there was a "question mark" over if they would be effective against the South African strain.

He told Times Radio: "As to what my gut feeling is that I think the vaccine will be still effective against that Kent strain.

"And I don't know about the South African strain. I think that's a there's a big question mark, about that."

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However, he added: "I think it's unlikely that these mutations will turn off the effect of vaccines entirely, I think you'll still have a residual effect.

"So I think it's a real question about whether we can play that out and make it work.

"If we can't, it's perfectly possible to make new vaccines so and that that will not take a year, that will take enough time to get a signal as to what immune responses you make to a new vaccine."

He said it "might take a month or six weeks to get a new vaccine," adding: "So everybody should stay calm, it's going to be fine.

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"But it's you know, there's we're now in a game of cat and mouse because these are not the only two variants we're gonna see.

"We’re gonna see lots of variants."

Scientists have said two million weekly doses of the AstraZeneca jab, developed with Oxford University, is needed to get the virus under control.

Sir John said he is "confident" it will get there by the middle of January.

He made the remarks shortly before the first Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine was given to Brian Pinker, a dialysis patient from Oxford, on Monday morning.

Professor Chris Whitty, the Chief Medical Officer, described it as "very welcome", adding: "Vaccines give us a route out in the medium term."

But he added: "The NHS is however under very considerable and rising pressure in the short term.

"We must all follow social distancing for now."

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