Nphet says UK variant ‘not associated with increased mortality or ICU admissions’
B117 is up to 70% more transmissible than previous variants, and was first identified in Ireland in mid-December
Rates of admission to ICU for B117 cases were similar to those recorded for cases not infected with variants of concern. Photograph: Getty Images
The B117 variant first identified in the UK is no more likely to lead to serious illness or death than previous variants, according to the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet).
Hospital admission rates and the case fatality ratio were actually slightly lower for B117 cases compared to cases not involving a variant of concern, analysis of Irish data showed.
The divergence varied slightly across age groups, with a higher percentage of B117 cases among 45-64 year-olds hospitalised but a slightly lower hospitalisation rates recorded among those aged over 65.
But because the number of hospitalised cases was low and the differences small, these variations were not regarded as statistically significant.
Rates of admission to ICU for B117 cases were similar to those recorded for cases not infected with variants of concern.
Based on the data available, B117 “is not associated with increased mortality or ICU admissions”, Nphet concluded, according to minutes of its meeting on March 18th. The issue is to be kept under review.
B117, which is up to 70 per cent more transmissible than previous variants, was first identified in Ireland in mid-December. It quickly spread to become the dominant variant, accounting for 87 per cent cases sequenced in February.
The age profile of B117 cases is slightly younger – average age 38 compared to 43 for cases not infected with a variant of concern.
Though earlier reports suggested the variant could be more lethal, two studies published in The Lancet this week found no evidence that it led to worse symptoms, increased death rates or made patients more likely to experience long Covid.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin said on March 30th: “The so-called UK or B-117 variant is essentially a new virus. It is more transmissible and it is significantly more dangerous. The reality of the B-117 variant is that if it is given any space at all, it spreads very quickly and the consequences are terrible.”
A total of 46 cases of another variant of concern, B1351, have been found in Ireland since late December.
Of the first 21 cases of the variant, which was first identified in South Africa, 11related to travel, five were contacts of a known case and four were classified as community transmission, according to the minutes.
Some experts believe B1351 may be able to get round some of the protection offered by vaccines or previous Covid infection. However, vaccination is expected to stop severe illness.
An Israeli study this month suggested B1351 is better at “breaking through” the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine than other forms of the virus.
Some Nphet members raised concerns about the reported community transmission of the variants of concern, in particular B1351, the minutes record.