Wednesday, 22 September 2021 08:18 GMT

A simple shift in chemistry one of the reasons why the UK COVID-19 variant has become so problematic, says virology expert at Arab Health


(MENAFN- Mid-East.Info) Dubai, United Arab Emirates: With 150 million cases and more than 3.5 million deaths, the global effects of the COVID-19 virus have been devastating, particularly for the G20 countries where it has had such a huge impact on the global economy. 

According to Peter Hotez, Director, Texas Children's Center for Vaccine Development (CVD), Dean, National School of Tropical Medicine, Professor of Paediatrics and Molecular Virology & Microbiology, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas, USA, low-income neighbourhoods, especially in the G20 countries, have been particularly hard hit. Also, because of all the social disruptions caused by the pandemic, there has been an overall decline in global paediatric vaccinations, which could result in the return of vaccine-preventable diseases.

Addressing the audience during the Pharma & Drug Discovery Conference at the live and in-person Arab Health event at the Dubai World Trade Centre, Professor Hotez gave an overview of COVID-19 vaccines and variants across the globe.

''In the United States, the predominant B.1.1.7 variant (known as the UK variant) has higher transmissibility, higher morbidity and mortality, and is affecting many young adults and adolescents. It is a simple shift in chemistry because of higher interactions of the spike protein of the virus with the receptor; that is one of the reasons why the B.1.1.7 variant has become so problematic,'' he explained.

Although the virus-neutralising antibodies induced by the two mRNA vaccines in the US (Pfizer-BioNTech and Johnson & Johnson's Janssen) do a good job of neutralising the B.1.1.7 variant spike protein, he warns of the implications of the second mutation in the US, the B.1.351 ZA or South Africa variant and the Brazil variant (P.1.), as the virus-neutralising antibodies are lower against this variant induced by the current vaccines.

''The implications of this is that the vaccines do not work quite as well, and it will also not be surprising to start seeing booster shots later in the year in the US for a third dose of the Pfizer-NioNTech or a second dose of the J & J vaccines, which will give you higher levels of virus-neutralising antibodies and more durable protection, and help us against some of the variants,'' Professor Hotez said.

The Houston Methodist Hospital recently reported that the B.1.1.7 variant in Houston, in some places, is picking up a second mutation, which is making the variant look like the South African or the Brazil variants. ''This is going to be a trouble area for us down the road in the US and globally,'' Professor Hotez added.

The good news for the US is that since the vaccines work well against B.1.1.7, and the US is hitting about 60% vaccination rates across the country, cases will continue to trend downward. The hope is that if the country can hit the 70-75% benchmark by July and August, then the transmission is going to decrease dramatically.

However, Professor Hotez underlined tremendous vulnerability in the rest of the world including, Africa, India, many parts of Southeast Asia and Latin America, and even parts of the Middle East, where vaccination rates are low, highlighting the urgency to do something soon.

The Indian Maharashtra strain (B.1.617) that grows out of the Mumbai area is also a variant that is partially resistant to vaccination. Since the growth of the B.1.617 in India, which is now also affecting Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, elsewhere in South Asia, three sub-lineages have been found in 44 countries. We are starting to see these sub-variants rise quickly, for example, in the United Kingdom, where the B.1.617.2 is spreading faster than other imported variants. 

''It will be important to collect as much evidence as we can on vaccine protection against this variant,'' he said. ''However, the overall good news is there’s a lot of convergence in these mutations. They don’t seem to be random, and they seem to be converging towards one or the other. But as we make booster shots, I think we are going to have to think about what this consensus sequence will look like for all of these new variants.''

Arab Health has been developed under the show theme of ‘United by Business, driving the industry forward, with the live, in-person event expected to welcome 1,500 exhibiting companies and over 20,000 attendees expected during the Live, in-person event.  

In addition, more than 300 speakers are expected to come together for the Arab Health Congress to improve medical practice and ultimately improve patient outcomes. A total of 12 medical conferences will take place between 21-24 June, nine of which will be Continuing Medical Education (CME) accredited.

Arab Health's live and in-person congress takes place until Thursday 24 June 2021, while a virtual showcase of the event will continue until 22 July.

About Arab Health :

As part of Informa Markets commitment to provide the highest hygiene levels at all events, the company has launched Informa AllSecure – a 35-point guide to ensuring attendee and staff safety. 

Arab Health is the largest healthcare event in the Middle East and is organised by Informa Markets. Established 46 years ago, Arab Health provides a platform for the world's leading manufacturers, wholesalers and distributors to meet the medical and scientific community in the Middle East and subcontinent. 

Arab Health Congress is reputed for delivering the highest quality Continuing Medical Education (CME) Conferences to medical professionals in the region.

Arab Health 2021 will take place from 21-24 June 2021 at the Dubai World Trade Centre, Dubai, United Arab Emirates and in a digital event format from 23 May-22 July 2021.

About Medlab Middle East :

As the MENA region's largest medical laboratory exhibition and congress, Medlab Middle East, which takes place alongside Arab Health, plays a crucial role in developing the value of laboratory medicine in transforming tomorrow's diagnostics by providing a platform for laboratory industry leaders, including manufacturers, dealers and distributors, to share best practice, showcase new innovations, collaborate and network. 

Medlab Middle East stems from 15 years of growth alongside the MENA region’s largest healthcare event, Arab Health. Moving into its 5th year as a stand-alone show, this annual medical laboratory meeting brings together exhibitors and attendees from over 140+ countries.

Medlab Middle East will take place from 21 – 24 June 2021 at the Dubai World Trade Centre, Dubai, UAE. A digital event will occur from 23 May – 22 July 2021.

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