Scientists have found a new strain of the coronavirus that is more infectious than previous versions that were spreading at the outset of the global pandemic and is likely to evolve into a strain that can render vaccines useless.
In a 33-page report, published by the US-based Los Alamos National Laboratory, researchers have pointed out that the rampant spread of COVID-19 has given the deadly pathogen "ample opportunity" to evolve into a more lethal and infectious strain than before.
Coronavirus has evolved into a deadlier, more infectious strain
One particular mutation, called Spike D614G, is of "urgent concern," according to authors of the study. The mutation affects the now infamous spikes on the exterior of the coronavirus, which allow it to enter human respiratory cells.
The Los Alamos, with the help of scientists from Duke University and the University of Sheffield in England prepared the report based on a computational analysis of more than 6,000 coronavirus sequences from around the world and as many as 14 mutations were identified.
According to the report, the coronavirus that first emerged in Wuhan, China more than four months ago has since mutated into its most dominant strain that is currently spreading across the United States, which has been the most affected country with more than 1.2 million people infections and over 71,000 deaths.
The mutated virus started infecting people in early February before making its way to other countries, including the US and Canada, evolving into its deadliest and most contagious strain.
Further mutation can render vaccines useless
According to the report, if the coronavirus does not subside in the summer like the seasonal flu, it could mutate further and potentially limit or resist the effectiveness of coronavirus vaccines being developed by scientists around the world.
The researchers warned in the study that not only will the mutated virus spread faster, and be difficult to cure with vaccines, it would also make people more susceptible to a relapse if they've been infected before.
Researchers noted that news of the mutation was of "urgent concern" and will essentially be a race against time as scientists try to find a vaccine to kill the virus before it mutates further and becomes incurable. More than 100 vaccines are currently in development across the world.
Italy has already claimed that it has successfully developed the world's first coronavirus vaccine that works on humans and Israel has also made claims that it has managed to develop an antibody that neutralises the virus. However, both claims are yet to be verified.