Scientific council chief: New coronavirus strains sure to arrive

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Irja Lutsar. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

Scientists say they are not yet concerned about the Indian variant of the coronavirus, but say that vaccines nonetheless need to be redesigned for the new variants. These mutations definitely won't be the end of the story either, head of the government's coronavirus advisory council Professor Irja Lutsar said.

"We know a little more about the Indian variant. It hasn't been added to the list of alarming Types, which gets added to when a rapid spread of the virus or strong breaching of the immune system happens, and those tests are still being performed," Lutsar said.

Lutsar added that the Indian outbreak probably has several other factors as to why it has got out of control, and she strongly recommends crossing India off the list as a potential travel destination.

"I say this not even because of the variant, but the fact the infection rate there is so high, and their medical system is in a crisis, so even with small problems you might not get help. So please don't travel there." Lutsar said by way of her recommendations.

There are still few clinical tests done with the vaccines

Regarding other new viral variants, laboratory tests have shown that the ability of the antibodies generated by the vaccines to neutralize them is lower than in the case of the original virus variant for which the vaccines were designed. At the same time, there have been few clinical tests done with the new variants and little information is available, so it is too early to draw conclusions about how effective vaccines actually are against the new variants.

"The new vaccines have already been designed to work against both the Brazilian and South African variants, at least in the test tube, and are already being studied to the best of my knowledge. Regulators will probably no longer require large clinical tests with tens of thousands of people," Lutsar said

Researchers say they are pleased that the South African variant has shown a relatively stable level in Estonia, and has not proved to be as widespread as the British variant.

"Each week, we find somewhere between one and three percent of this variant. Last week we found four variants - one brought in from abroad and three local variants. In any case, this South African variant is not spreading as fast," Lutsar said.

At the same time, she acknowledged that there will definitely be new variants of the virus in the future.

"We just have to look at the situation here. Probably then, the new vaccines will have to be designed as well," Lutsar summarized.

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Editor: Roberta Vaino

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