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UK COVID Variant Will Likely 'Sweep the World,' British Scientist Warns

By VOA News February 11, 2021

A British scientist says the coronavirus variant first discovered in that country late last year has "swept the country" and will "sweep the world in all probability."

Sharon Peacock, the head of the COVID-19 Genomics U.K. consortium, made the prediction Wednesday during an interview with the BBC.

The more transmissible strain was first detected in the southern British county of Kent back in September, and has since been identified in more than 50 countries, including the United States.

The COVID-19 Genomics U.K. consortium tracks the genetic mutations of the novel coronavirus. Peacock said the newly developed vaccines are effective against the current mutations, but she warned that scientists will be tracking new mutations at least for the next decade until the virus "mutates itself out of being virulent."

A new study suggests an inhaled steroid commonly used to treat asthma symptoms appears to reduce the need to hospitalize someone infected with COVID-19.

Scientists at Britain's Oxford University conducted a month-long study of 146 patients with early symptoms of the novel coronavirus. Half of the patients were administered an inhaler containing budesonide, while the other patients received the usual care.

The scientists discovered the majority of patients given budesonide not only avoided hospitalization, but also recovered faster and had fewer lingering symptoms.

The study, which has not been peer reviewed, was launched after researchers discovered that patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, were significantly underrepresented among hospitalized COVID-19 patients in the early days of the pandemic.

The heads of the World Health Organization and the U.N. Children's Fund are appealing for scaled-up COVID-19 vaccine production and equitable distribution, warning that the global rollout is dangerously uneven.

"Of the 128 million vaccine doses administered so far, more than three quarters of those vaccinations are in just 10 countries that account for 60% of global GDP," said WHO chief Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore in a joint statement on Wednesday. "As of today, almost 130 countries, with 2.5 billion people, are yet to administer a single dose."

If this continues, they warn, it "will cost lives and livelihoods," and create conditions for the virus to mutate and become resistant to vaccines. Global economic recovery will also be slowed.

The officials urged governments to look "beyond their borders" and devise a vaccine strategy that will both end the pandemic and limit the emergence of new variants.

They recommend immunizing frontline health workers and vulnerable persons in all countries first. The WHO and UNICEF chiefs also appealed to vaccine manufacturers to allocate their limited supply fairly and transfer technology to other producers that can help boost the global supply.

"COVID-19 has shown that our fates are inextricably linked," they said. "Whether we win or lose, we will do so together."

Race to vaccinate

Also on Wednesday, the WHO's Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization issued interim guidance recommending the AstraZeneca and Oxford University COVID-19 vaccine for persons over age 65.

Several European countries, including Germany and France, have limited use of it to people between ages 18 and 64 because of insufficient data on elderly recipients.

The WHO experts said based on ongoing trials and vaccine effectiveness studies in countries that are using the AstraZeneca vaccine, it appears safe and effective for the older age group.

They also recommend an interval of 8 to 12 weeks between the two doses.

South Korea approved the AstraZeneca vaccine for emergency use for all adults starting Feb. 26. But the announcement, made before the WHO recommendation was released, issued a precautionary warning for persons over aged 65.

On Sunday, South Africa raised doubts about the AstraZeneca vaccine when it suspended its vaccination campaign after a new study revealed it to be less effective against a variant of the virus found in South Africa.

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