The COVID-19 mutation from minks would be more deadly and could disrupt the development of vaccines in progress

Visons en la granja by Hans Henrik Jeppesen near Sorø, Denmark (REUTERS / Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen)

The outbreak of the SARS-CoV-2 virus took the world by surprise and quickly expanded from Wuhan, China -where it is believed that bats and pangolins were born in an animal market and were involved in the chain of transmission- to all continents, nations and In just 11 months it generated more than 53 million confirmed cases globally, 1.3 million dead according to Universidad Johns Hopkins and forced to establish different types and schemes of confinements, quarantines and isolations.

At the same time, the scientific community sped along two major avenues to try to slow the spread of COVID-19, one through vaccines -10 of them are in Phase III very close to the finish line- and in parallel looking for therapeutics or treatments that can neutralize the virus and lessen the effects of the disease in patients.

With a imminent second wave in Europe, the focus is now on Denmark. Why there? Scientists discovered that there is a type of transmission of COVID-19 among populations of visones –Carnivorous mammal of the mustelidae family that resembles the otter- which could cause the virus to mutate rapidly before jumping to humans. The warning came from a major body: the European Union health agency.

Caged minks watch after police officers arrived at Thorbjorn Jepsen's mink farm, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Gjoel, Denmark, on October 9, 2020 (Henning Bagger / Ritzau Scanpix / via REUTERS)

Caged minks watch after police officers arrived at Thorbjorn Jepsen’s mink farm, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Gjoel, Denmark, on October 9, 2020 (Henning Bagger / Ritzau Scanpix / via REUTERS)

These mutations carry the risk that the virus will become more infectious, more lethal, alter the risk of reinfection or spoil possible vaccines in progress. The European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) has posted a new guide to slow the spread of the coronavirus between mink and humans.

“Since April 2020, when the first SARS-CoV-2 infection was reported in the Netherlands in a mink and subsequently in a mink farm worker, It has been established that human-to-mink and mink-to-human transmission can occur. Since then, mink infections have been reported in Denmark, Italy, Spain, Sweden and the United States.”, The publication begins.

The number of infections that can occur in a fur farm means that “the virus can accumulate mutations more quickly in mink,” explained the ECDC. In Denmark, It has been identified that 214 people have contracted variants of SARS-CoV-2 associated with cultivated minks, 12 of which presented a unique variant and different from those registered up to now. Even from the local government they took drastic measures: Denmark to cull around 15 million visions raised on its territory due to a COVID-19 mutationannounced Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen. The mutation “could represent a risk that future vaccines – against the coronavirus – will not work as expected”, declared the president.

The new strain derived from mink could alter the efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccine in the future, if this version of the SARS-CoV-2 virus is not controlled and spreads at high speed (Shutterstock)

The new strain derived from mink could alter the efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccine in the future, if this version of the SARS-CoV-2 virus is not controlled and spreads at high speed (Shutterstock)

It is believed that this variant, called ‘Group 5’, has a moderately decreased sensitivity to neutralizing antibodies in both mink and humans. At least 216 Danish fur farms have been infected with coronavirus, and the country plans to euthanize millions of these animals in their 1,139 farms.

The ECDC also noted that “establishment of a virus reservoir among minks can lead to problematic virus variants in the future and currently there is great uncertainty and more research is required regarding the nature of these mutations and their implications for issues such as the efficacy of the vaccine, reinfections and the spread or severity of the virus, “they added.

The body recommended that countries adopt a series of protective measures in mink farms, including regular tests of workers and local residents. and, in case of contracting COVID-19, sequencing the virus to detect mutations.

Slaughtered minks in Farre, Denmark.  Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen has ordered the slaughter of all minks on all farms in the country after finding that on some farms, minks had contracted a mutation of the coronavirus.  EFE / Mette Moerk

Slaughtered minks in Farre, Denmark. Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen has ordered the slaughter of all minks on all farms in the country after finding that on some farms, minks had contracted a mutation of the coronavirus. EFE / Mette Moerk

The European health agency has also called for the animals to be tested routinely, as well as the introduction of additional precautionary measures to limit the possible spread of the mink virus to humans.

These could include the removal of minks and the destruction of fur from infected farms, as well as heightened precautions among veterinarians, mink producers and their partners in the fur industry.

The rapidity of the SARS-CoV-2 virus mutations puzzles the scientific community (Europa Press)

The rapidity of the SARS-CoV-2 virus mutations puzzles the scientific community (Europa Press)

The ECDC report noted that the risk to the general population from mink-related coronavirus strains was likely low, but much higher for those working with mink and medically vulnerable people living in areas with a high concentration of farms. of fur.

But nevertheless, The World Health Organization in contrast says it is “very, very far from making a determination” on whether COVID-19 mutated strains of mink could threaten people, according to what the group’s head of emergencies recently stated, Michael Ryan.

A mink caged amid the COVID-19 pandemic, at a mink farm in Hjørring, North Jutland, Denmark.  October 8, 2020 (Ritzau Scanpix / Mads Claus Rasmussen via REUTERS)

A mink caged amid the COVID-19 pandemic, at a mink farm in Hjørring, North Jutland, Denmark. October 8, 2020 (Ritzau Scanpix / Mads Claus Rasmussen via REUTERS)

According David Heymann, a global health expert from the Chatham House think tank, a mutant strain of coronavirus from a mink farm is unlikely to change the course of the pandemic: “This virus is in all countries and is mutating differently in each country”, He added to Daily Mail the former official of the World Health Organization.

“For this mink virus to be able to replace the virus in other countries and have an impact on vaccines, it would have to be more suitable than the other viruses that exist now and spread more easily and quickly,” warned the specialist.

The ECDC report points to fur farms as potential virus factories capable of producing COVID-19 mutations and even undermining medical progress toward reliable treatments.“Said the director of Humane Society International / Europe, Joanna Swabe, who pointed out that the official document” further validates the decision of the Danish government to respond to the risk to public health posed by the fur trade. ” He added that also should be “a wake-up call would be for mink producing countries that have not yet systematically tested it to take urgent measures”.

Genetics are more than ever present in the controversy over COVID-19 and mutations

Genetics are more than ever present in the controversy over COVID-19 and mutations

Not everyone thinks the risk is so imminent and extreme. The doctor Elmer huerta, a prestigious Peruvian oncologist, physician and communicator based in the United States, examined the Danish allegations, what the scientists say and why a possible mutation due to mink could pose a danger to the vaccine.

“The vague explanation given by the Prime Minister of Denmark, and later by the Minister of Health of that country, was that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, had undergone a certain mutation in mink. It prevented an adequate response from the human defense system, and it could be a global threat because it could interfere with the efficacy of a future vaccine. The scientific community is extremely frustrated by what they describe as a lack of transparency from the Danish authorities, who have given absolutely no scientific information in this regard.“Huerta asserted.

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