Deadly outbreak Flemish care center puts Colombian variant in the spotlight
Had two shots
The virus is believed to have entered the ward for patients with advanced dementia through a visitor. The first infection was diagnosed in mid-July. More than twenty residents and staff have now tested positive. Seven of the 28 residents have died, despite all of them being double vaccinated with the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine.
“I think there are two possibilities,” says Van Ranst. “For example, that with this variant the vaccine protects less well.” The second option refers to the fact that the residents were vaccinated about six months ago. According to the Flemish virologist, the effect of the vaccine decreases more quickly for this vulnerable group. “We also see that with a flu shot: it only lasts for six months in the very elderly.” However, Van Ranst emphasizes that it is still too early to draw firm conclusions.
Contamination after vaccination
In any case, the current vaccines do not offer 100 percent protection against Covid-19. Statistically speaking, it is inevitable that a small proportion of fully vaccinated people still gets infected and develops symptoms. But vaccination makes the chance of this much smaller than without vaccination.
The older a person is and the weaker their immune system, the greater the risk of illness after infection. Certainly with the more contagious delta variant. However, it is still unclear to what extent this may apply to the Colombian variant.
‘No evidence for extra contagiousness’
Public Health England recently reported that no evidence has been found that the Colombian variant is more contagious than the now dominant delta variant. However, the preliminary data suggest that the current vaccines may not work as well against B.1.621. But since only 37 infections have been detected in England, research into this variant is still in its infancy in the United Kingdom.
“It may also be that the Colombian variant never really gains a foothold, just like the P1 variant from Brazil,” says field epidemiologist Amrish Baidjoe. Because of all the hundreds of virus variants that have emerged, only a few have become dominant. Like now the delta variant (first found in India) and before that the alpha variant (first surfaced in the United Kingdom).
Delta variant main concern
Research will have to show how dangerous B.1.621 is. Baidjoe: “The more contagious delta variant clearly remains the greatest concern. But if you look at what has happened in the Flemish nursing home, it is good to keep an eye on this variant.”
So that happens. The World Health Organization has listed the variant as worrisome enough to monitor. That is a step below Variant of Concern (VOC) or Variant of Interest (VOI), because its possible impact is still too unclear. That also explains why the Colombian mutation has not yet been named after a letter from the Greek alphabet. This only happens with a VOC or VOI.
ECDC, the European RIVM, has the Colombian variant a little more emphatically on the radar. Van Ranst: “There is no reason to panic, but there are concerns. Because the delta variant also started with a few cases and a few weeks later it accounted for more than 96 percent of all infections.”