British COVID-19 Variant is 45% More Contagious

coronavirus cells
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According to a recent study from Tel Aviv University, the British coronavirus variant is 45% more contagious than the original strain.

The British variant was first identified in December of last year during routine surveillance in Kent, England. Although it wasn’t considered a huge threat at the time, the variant soon raised concerns as researchers stated it to be more deadly and transmissible than the previous strain. Moreover, the variant managed to spread across the world and cause a rise in cases in various countries. Now, researchers at Tel Aviv University have found further evidence of the British variant being more contagious than the original virus.

Over the past few months, multiple coronavirus variants have emerged across the world. An expected occurrence as viruses commonly undergoes mutation with time. However, some of them have become variants of concerns because they seem to spread more rapidly and cause more COVID-19 cases. This includes the British variant, South African, Brazilian, and Californian variant.

In December 2020, only 5% of COVID-19 cases in Israel contained the British variant. However, within six weeks, that rose to 90%. Therefore, the team of researchers aimed to investigate its pattern of spread. They analyzed data from about 300,00 PCR samples collected between December 2020 to February 2021. Results showed the variant was 45% more contagious than the original strain in Israel.

To explain this dramatic increase, we compared the R number of the SARS-CoV-2 virus with the R of the British variant. In other words, we posed the question: How many people, on average, contract the disease from every person who has either variant? We found that the British variant is 45% — almost 1.5 times — more contagious.

Prof. Ariel Munitz, study author

On the Bright Side

Additionally, the study looked at the cases among different age groups. They noted a sharp drop in new cases among the 60+ population while other age groups continued to see an increase in cases. This was around the same time that 50% of the 60+ population received their first vaccine shot. Therefore, proving the effectiveness of vaccines in preventing illness and mortality.

Although the British variant is more contagious, there is no evidence of it being deadlier than other strains. Moreover, despite concerns, the current vaccines remain effective against the variants. However, researchers predict that a booster shot may be needed in the future to develop a better protection against further mutations.

We can develop vaccines that are closer to the variants, but it seems that so far we have effective vaccines

Dr Gigi Gronvall, immunologist and associate professor of environmental health and engineering at Johns Hopkins University


A. Munitz, M. Yechezkel, Y. Dickstein, D. Yamin, M. Gerlic. BNT162b2 Vaccination Effectively Prevents the Rapid Rise of SARS-CoV-2 Variant B.1.1.7 in high risk populations in Israel. Cell Reports Medicine, 2021; 100264 DOI: 10.1016/j.xcrm.2021.100264


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