Even as vaccines are beginning to become available and distributed against COVID-19, medical officials are advising of a version spreading in southern England that has key mutations.
The Coronvirus Group in Britain ( COG-UK) reports it is investigating a newly detected mutation that has changed to virus’ spike protein which is uses to invade a human cell and then replicate.
Scientists note that viruses mutate regularly, including COVID-19, as they spread. The COVID strain originating in Wuhan China is virtually gone. This was known as the ‘L’ strain.
In fact the virus mutates roughly every week according to scientists, but so far with little overall change to its effect.
A mutation can make a virus more dangerous, or less dangerous. The ‘L” strain has since been mostly replaced by other variants with the ‘G’ strain as the current most common in Europe and North America with further minor variations to the G strain as GH, GR and GV.
One of the current strains is said to have about 25 mutations compared to the original Wuhan strain.
There have been serious concerns recently about the virus being transmitted to mink and possible dangerous mutations being retransmitted to humans with that new variant reducing effectiveness of the newly developed vaccines.
The current vaccines train the body’s immune system to attack the spike. If that changes too dramatically, the vaccines theoretically lose effectiveness. On the other hand the body’s immune system learns to attack several parts of the spike so a mutation might not really lessen the effectiveness of a vaccine.
Nevertheless, as a precaution in Denmark, a mass cull of millions of mink was ordered in early November with a month-long lockdown in the northwest of the country.. Similar infections on mink farms have been detected in a few U.S states and at least one mink farm in British Columbia.
It is not known if the new mutation found in England has made the virus more easily spread, or any more or less dangerous.
Scientists so far are confident that the mutations to date have not altered the effectiveness of the vaccines developed against the SARS-CoV2 virus.
Quoted in the BBC, Prof Alan McNally, from the University of Birmingham, said: “We know there’s a variant, we know nothing about what that means biologically. It is far too early to make any inference on how important this may or may not be.”
Scientists do say however that when the spreading of the virus is reduced, so too is the virus ability to mutate and therefore they say continuing attempts to limit spread are important.
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