THE BETA variant first seen in South Africa is "quite good" at escaping vaccines – and scientists believe it could now be a "threat" in the UK.
Like the dominant Delta strain, Beta has shown in studies to dodge antibodies made from vaccination.
It may be the strongest vaccine-escaping variant currently in circulation, studies have shown.
Professor Sir Andrew Pollard, director of the Oxford Vaccine Group, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "The Beta variant is also in the UK, and just as with the Delta variant, it's able to escape vaccine immunity to some extent.
"It's actually quite good at escaping vaccine immunity and so we would expect it to be able to spread in vaccinated populations."
Prof Pollard said he was "absolutely confident" the AstraZeneca jab will still give "very high protection" against hospital admission and death.
That's based on the fact it has similar technology as the Johnson and Johnson jab, which was shown in one study to be 100 per cent protective against hospitalisation and death from the Beta variant.
But people with both vaccines will still get infected.
"We know that people who have had RNA vaccines, like the Pfizer vaccine, as well as the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, can become infected with the Beta variant", Prof Pollard said.
The Beta variant's ability to evade immunity has always been the most concern for scientists.
England's chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty said at a Downing Street briefing on May 10 that the view was that Delta "is less likely to be able to escape vaccination than some of the other variants, particularly the South African one".
Only a small number of Beta cases have been recorded in the UK so far after it first landed here in December 2020.
Threat to the UK
But concern about the strain has ramped up in recent weeks, with a member of the UK’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies believing it could be a “threat”.
Professor John Edmunds told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Sunday: “As the population here becomes more and more immune, the conditions are right then for the Beta variant to get an advantage, so I can understand the concern.
“Of the variants that are out there and are known about, that one has always been a threat to us."
In contrast to Prof Pollards comments, Prof Edmunds said: “There is some good evidence from South Africa that it can evade the immune response generated by the AstraZeneca vaccine more efficiently.”
It comes after a rule-change for holidaymakers returning to England from France.
It was announced on Friday evening that travellers from France, on the amber list, must continue to quarantine for 10 days, even if they are double jabbed.
The rule comes into effect on Monday, July 19, despite the requirement being removed for amber list countries on the same day.
Ministers said the move was a precautionary measure due to concerns over the “persistent presence” of the Beta variant in the country.
It is said that the number of South African variant cases in France are significantly higher than in other countries around the world.
Prof Edmunds, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said he could understand concerns that have led to last-minute travel rule changes.
He said: “The Beta variant has remained a threat throughout. It is probably less infectious than the Delta variant that is spreading here in the UK at the moment.
"Where it has an advantage is that it is able to escape the immune response to a better extent.”
Sources told The Telegraph that officials are concerned at the prospect of the Beta variant being brought into the UK this summer.
"They are worried about the South African variant because they think it escapes the vaccine, although they don't have evidence of that yet," a senior Whitehall source said.
"It appears to be why a lot of countries in Africa and the Middle East are on the red list despite low prevalence rates."
It comes as Boris Johnson's target of offering all adults in the UK a Covid-19 vaccine has been met – ahead of his July 19 deadline.
The successful roll-out ensured his other target of two thirds of adults having both doses was also met.
The PM has now vowed to "finish the job" by getting all over 18s to book their jabs.
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