Response to three Public Health England papers about the B.1.617.2 variant of concern published
on 22 May 2021
A new variant first sequenced in India, B.1.617.2, was declared a variant of concern by Public Health
England (PHE) on 7 May 2021. Since its first sequenced case in England on 28 March 2021, it has
grown to 2,884 cases (as of 12 May), and its growth has outpaced all other tracked variants,
including the dominant B.1.1.7 (often called the “Kent” variant).
On 22 May, PHE released three important new documents:
- Effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines against the B.1.617.2 variant
- SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern and variants under investigation in England: Technical
- 22 May 2021 Risk assessment for SARS-CoV-2 variant: VOC-21APR-02 (B.1.617.2)
The first report on vaccine effectiveness has been greeted as good news, with Matt Hancock saying
that the findings made him “increasingly confident” the final stage of easing restrictions in England
could take place on 21 June. The other two reports have been sparsely covered in the media or
discussed by health ministers.
We believe that taken together, the PHE reports paint a far more concerning outlook for the
roadmap and require an urgent public health response building on our 14 May plan to get cases
down now, before the situation worsens further.