Coronavirus unlikely to become more deadly because it’s run out of ‘places to go’, says Oxford jab creator

‘There is no reason to think we will have a more virulent version of Sars-CoV-2’

Holly Bancroft
Thursday 23 September 2021 10:39
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<p> Professor Dame Sarah Gilbert attends the the Veuve Clicquot Bold Woman of the Year Award 2021 </p>

Professor Dame Sarah Gilbert attends the the Veuve Clicquot Bold Woman of the Year Award 2021

Covid is unlikely to mutate into a deadlier, vaccine-evading, variant because it’s run out of “places to go” , the creator of the Oxford jab has said.

Dame Sarah Gilbert said coronavirus is likely to become less severe in its effects. Speaking at a Royal Society of Medicine webinar on Wednesday, she said: “We normally see that viruses become less virulent as they circulate more easily and there is no reason to think we will have a more virulent version of Sars-CoV-2.”

Dame Sarah said that some variations were to be expected but predicted that coronavirus would eventually become like the flu virus, saying: “What tends to happen over time is there’s just a slow drift, that’s what happens with flu viruses. You see small changes accumulating over a period of time and then we have the opportunity to react to that.”

Dame Sarah explained why she thought it wasn’t likely that a new vaccine-evading variant of coronavirus would emerge. She said: “The virus can’t completely mutate because its spike protein has to interact with the ACE2 receptor on the surface of the human cell, in order to get inside that cell.

“If it changes its spike protein so much that it can’t interact with that receptor, then it’s not going to be able to get inside the cell. So there aren’t very many places for the virus to go to have something that will evade immunity but still be a really infectious virus.”

Dame Sarah said that, as Covid-19 transitions to a more seasonal virus, there will be a general immunity building up in the population. She said: “We tend to see slow genetic drift of the virus and there will be gradual immunity developing in the population as there is to all the other seasonal coronaviruses.

“There are four of them and they’ve been circulating for decades and we’re not even aware of them.

“So we already live with four different human coronaviruses that we don’t really ever think about very much and eventually Sars-CoV-2 will become one of those. The question of how long it’s going to take to get there and what measures we’re going to have to take to manage it in the meantime.”

So far the coronavirus variants that are better at evading the vaccine have not been able to make much impact as the highly-infectious Delta variant continues to dominate the number of cases.

Professor Sharon Peacock, the executive director of the Covid-19 UK Genomics Consortium, also told the webinar: “It’s watch and wait, but Delta is top of the list and other variants are not particularly concerning at the moment.

“It has been pretty quiet since Delta emerged and it would be nice to think there won’t be any new variants of concern. If I was pushed to predict, I think there will be new variants emerging over time and I think there is still quite a lot of road to travel down with this virus.”

This week, trials began in Manchester on a Covid booster jab that is designed to offer increased immunity against a wider range of variants.

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