Britain’s health minister said Tuesday the government there is considering modifications to existing COVID-19 vaccines to address variant strains of the coronavirus.
Health Minister Matt Hancock made the announcement in parliament, a day after health officials said they has discovered 105 cases of a COVID-19 variant first identified in South Africa, 11 cases of which had no apparent links to international travel. The nation also continues to grapple with another variant, first identified in Britain.
The variants have generally not been shown to be more severe than the original virus but appear to be more easily transmissible.
In his comments to parliament, Hancock said the government is working closely with scientists and pharmaceutical companies to determine how effective the current vaccines are against the new variants. Hancock said if modifications are needed on a large scale, he is confident they could be made available much more quickly than the original vaccines.
Meanwhile, Britain has launched door-to-door “surge testing” in areas where the South African variant has been discovered. Officials hope to locate and isolate cases of the variants to keep them from spreading further.
Hancock said the British vaccination program is progressing “on track,” and has already vaccinated 90% of all people 80 and older and 50% of all people over 70.