Scientists emphasised repeatedly that all viruses mutate, it is in their nature, even the flu virus mutates and thus vaccines need to be frequently updated. The coronavirus has mutated before, once at the very start of the pandemic.
Just as the world was starting to hope for vaccines to usher in a healthier 2021 UK on Sunday cautioned against a highly contagious and mutated strain of coronavirus. Prime Minister Boris Johnson placed London and surrounding areas under the most stringent lockdown since March, effectively cancelling Christmas. “When the virus changes its method of attack, we must change our method of defense,” he said at a press conference on Sunday.
As Europe and the rest of the world was waking up to a new nightmare and putting travel restrictions in place, the scientific community rushed in to comfort alarmed populations. Scientists emphasised repeatedly that all viruses mutate, it is in their nature, even the flu virus mutates and thus vaccines need to be frequently updated. The coronavirus has mutated before, once at the very start of the pandemic. “This thing’s transmitting, it’s acquiring, it’s adapting all the time,” Dr. Ravindra Gupta, a virologist at the University of Cambridge, told the New York Times. “But people don’t want to hear what we say, which is: This virus will mutate.” he added.
How many times has the Sars-CoV-2 virus mutated?
So far, scientists have noted two distinct set of mutations in the virus that causes Covid-19, the H69/V70 deletion, and the D614G, both of which affects the spike proteins, which helps the virus to bind to the human cell, and infect it. It is this ability that vaccines seek to target and weaken. The H69-70 deletion affects antibody susceptibility, and has been seen three times so far- in Danish minks, in Britain, and in a patient who was rendered much less responsive to convalescent plasma therapy.
The virus was first reported in Wuhan and since then, it is said to have mutated many times, most of which have gone unnoticed. The BBC reported that if the strain that’s infecting people now is compared to the first one that spread in Wuhan a total of 25 mutations will be visible, that’s a little over two mutations a month. As the human body gets more adept at identifying and fighting it, the virus too is expected to fight back, by trying to evade the body’s immune system.
The D614G is the first known mutation that is suspected to have occurred in Eastern China in January and later spread through New York City and Europe. Within a few months of the pandemic this particular variant was found all over the world, as it had successfully replaced its predecessor, which had spread from Wuhan.
Scientists have opined that the pandemic spread faster as a result of the 614G mutation, stating that some countries which were initially successful in containing the virus faltered later because of the new strain, which spread more rapidly.
The H69-70 deletion occurred when the coronavirus spread from humans to minks in Denmark and later Utah. The coronavirus has a tendency to jump from humans to animals and vice versa, minks kept in crowded farms fell prey to the virus and thousands had to be killed to stop the mutated virus from spreading to humans.
There is no proof so far of the mutations tampering with vaccine effectiveness. When the 614G spread scientists studied its effect on human lung tissues and hamsters, and found that even though it spread more quickly it did not alter or create new symptoms, nor did it cause a monumental spike in deaths. What is even more important than mutations is change in human behaviour, which scientists say affects how the virus spreads more than mutations.
Source: Hindustan Times