The coronavirus variant first identified in the UK “may be associated with a higher degree of mortality” in infected patients, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Friday during a news briefing at Downing Street.
“I must tell you this afternoon that we’ve been informed today that, in addition to spreading more quickly, it also now appears that there is some evidence that the new variant – the variant that was first identified in London and the South East – may be associated with a higher degree of mortality,” Johnson said.
Researchers are still looking at the data and there is still a lot of uncertainty.
Patrick Vallance, the UK government’s chief scientific adviser, said it looks like the variant is more deadly when looking at the total population that becomes infected.
“If you took somebody in their 60s — a man in their 60s — the average risk is that for 1,000 people who got infected, roughly 10 would be expected to, unfortunately, die with the virus. With the new variant, for 1,000 people infected, roughly 13 or 14 people might be expected to die,” he said.
Vallance said the increase in risk would affect all age groups.
This evidence comes from several groups in the UK that found an increased risk of death for people infected with the variant compared to people infected with other forms of the coronavirus. In four analyses cited by a government advisory group, these estimates ranged between roughly 1.3 and 1.9 times higher risk of death. At least one analysis among hospitalized patients did not.
The advisory group, known as NERVTAG, concluded there is a “realistic possibility” that variant is linked to a higher risk of death. However, the researchers said the absolute risk of death for an individual remains low, and more data will be needed to provide definitive proof. For example, in some cases the data came from less than 10% of all deaths reported.
Vallance stressed that “there’s a lot of uncertainty around these numbers and we need more work to get a precise handle on it. But it obviously is of concern that this has an increase in mortality, as well as an increase in transmissibility, as it appears of today.”
He noted that when it comes to patients who are hospitalized with Covid-19, there is not an increased risk of mortality.
“When we look at data from hospitals, so patients who are in hospital with the virus, the outcomes for those with the original virus or the new variant look the same,” he said.
UK Prime Minister Johnson said “both the vaccines we’re currently using remain effective both against the old variant and this new variant.”