Coronavirus: Should we worry about the mutation of COVID in Danish mink?

·2-min read

Has the coronavirus shape-shifted just as we're about to roll out the first vaccine?

It's such a nightmarish scenario that Danish authorities are taking no chances.

They've been dealing with a mutated strain of the virus that has been spreading through mink fur farms for a while.

But the stakes were raised when it was confirmed that the virus has jumped back into humans.

Twelve people are so far confirmed to have the mutated virus but there could be hundreds more, according to the Danish prime minister, who described the situation as "very, very serious".

She said the mutations could pose a "risk to the effectiveness" of a vaccine.

All 17 million mink in Denmark are being culled and the north of Jutland is under lockdown.

In the UK, the government has immediately ordered people travelling from Denmark to quarantine.

Scientists outside the country haven't yet seen the data that rang alarm bells. The first genetic sequences of the new strain have only just been uploaded to international databases.

So it's hard to say how significant the mutations are.

The virus has been mutating every fortnight or so since the pandemic started. And there is just one that seems so far to have had any significant effect on its ability to infect human cells.

The new mutations are in the gene coding for the spike protein, which the virus uses to invade human cells.

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Vaccines all contain parts of the spike protein to trigger the immune system to make antibodies against the virus.

In theory if a strain comes along with a markedly different spike protein the antibodies wouldn't work as well.

But the prototype COVID vaccines all use different parts of the spike protein. So it's unlikely they would all be knocked out at the same time.

Nevertheless, it's wise to be cautious.

Hopefully the Danish authorities have acted swiftly enough to shut down the area, preventing the strain going global. Just in case.