Understanding Covid-19 UK variant as it hits Thailand

PHOTO: Thailand's vaccines are less effective against the UK variant of Covid-19

The so-called UK variant of Covid-19, a strain that is 1.7 times more contagious and deadly, has arrived in Thailand, present in the cluster in Bangkok’s upscale Thong Lor area that has spawned the pandemic third wave. Here’s why you should care.

Referred to as the B117 variant, it first emerged in the UK county of Kent, though new research shows it may have been slowly spreading since September 2020. Its spread has accelerated quickly and is now the most prominent strain of Covid-19 in the UK. Studies show that the B117 strain is more deadly, with one study showing deaths from UK variant infections were 30 to 100% higher than earlier variants. The strain also has at least 23 mutations identified so far.

Virologists suspect that the UK variant of Covid-19 may have entered Thailand through Cambodia, as the two countries are experiencing similar infection surges. Thailand is the 42nd country to be infected with the variant. From April 1st, the 14 day mandatory quarantine was relaxed to only 10 days, which may have helped the B117 strain proliferate in Thailand. The Medical Sciences Department expects more detail on the origins in the next few days, after a detailed analysis.

One major problem this new strain presents is vaccine efficiency. Sinopharm, Pfizer and Moderna all look to be fairly effective against the UK variant, but Sinovac and AstraZeneca, the two vaccines currently available in Thailand are less promising. Both vaccines have tested less effective against B117, but AstraZeneca is still 70% effective, according to reports.

Unfortunately Thailand only has less than 120,000 AstraZeneca doses at this stage, but Thailand will soon produce AstraZeneca locally, under license, which is hoped to hasten the process.

Thailand’s Disease Control Department said over the weekend weekend that SinoVac and AstraZeneca meet the World Health Organisation standards and Thailand will push forward with its vaccination plan with the 2 million SinoVac doses they have already procured, a million of which have already arrived and are currently being rolled out. More than half a million jabs have been administered so far, and the DCD hopes 10 million vaccines will be given per month from June on.

SOURCE: Thai PBS World

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Neill Fronde

Neill is a journalist from the United States with 10+ years broadcasting experience and national news and magazine publications. He graduated with a degree in journalism and communications from the University of California and has been living in Thailand since 2014.

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