Japanese government says it has identified a new, more contagious variant of the coronavirus
TOKYO – Japan confirmed discovery of new, more contagious variant of coronavirus, report says published by the country’s National Institute of Infectious Diseases (NIID).
Reuters reported that the new strain appears to come from overseas, but is different from other strains identified in Britain, South Africa and Brazil.
“It may be more contagious than the conventional strains, and if it continues to spread nationally, it could lead to a rapid increase in cases,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said on Friday, Reuters reported.
According to the NIID report, 91 cases of the new strain have been identified in the Kanto region of Japan, about 64 miles north of Tokyo.
The discovery of the new strain comes as Japan approved and began administering its first COVID-19 vaccine on Sunday. Japan’s health ministry said it approved the vaccine co-developed and supplied by Pfizer.
Many countries started vaccinating their citizens late last year, and Pfizer’s vaccine has been in use elsewhere since December.
Under the current vaccination plan, around 20,000 frontline medical workers in Japanese hospitals will receive the first vaccines. About 3.7 million more medical workers will follow, followed by the elderly, who are expected to be vaccinated in April. By June, everyone else is expected to be eligible.
The NIID report released on Friday recognizes the favorable timing of the country’s vaccine approval, but urges medical experts to be on the lookout for adaptive mutations in the virus, suggesting systematic genome surveillance is in place.
So far, there has been no evidence to suggest that current COVID-19 vaccines will not work against the other mutations identified around the world.
But a separate laboratory study from Pfizer Inc-BioNTech suggests that the company’s current COVID-19 vaccine may generate a significantly less robust antibody response against the South African variant of the coronavirus.
According to the in vitro study published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), lab results “indicated reduced neutralization” of the virus.
Japan’s NIID highlighted the same possibility in its report.
“It has been pointed out that the mutant [South African] The strain has the possibility of immune evasion which increases the power of transmission and decreases the effect of the vaccine, ”reads the NIID report.
In the Pfizer South African variant study, researchers analyzed the blood of people who took the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine and identified a two-thirds reduction in the level of COVID-19 neutralizing antibodies to the southern variant. African.
This has been compared to the most common variant of the virus spread in the United States
“It is not known what effect a reduction in neutralization of about two-thirds would have on the protection elicited by BNT162b2 against Covid-19 caused by the B.1.351 lineage of SARS-CoV-2,” the researchers wrote.
Despite the results of the in vitro lab test, the company said there was still no clinical evidence from human trials that the South African mutation reduced the overall protection of the vaccine.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.