Scientists in the UK are now monitoring 4,000 deadly strains of the Coronavirus as they fear that a mutation could threaten the country, which is already suffering because of the surge in COVID-19 cases.
The scientists are tracking the new strains of the virus that have the potential to resist vaccines and treatments which are already developed. As per the virus's nature, to avoid being extinct, it could cause a new strain to circulate which our current antibodies may not be able to defend.
Professor Sharon Peacock, director of the Covid-19 Genomics UK, said it is important to keep monitoring, as many of the vaccine candidates target the same spike protein on the virus surface. According to the expert, "Once we start to use vaccines in the general population, that will put an evolutionary driver, a selection pressure, on viruses. Viruses are going to want to escape the effect of vaccines because that's what evolution is about."
As UK's Secretary of State for Health Matt Hancock revealed earlier this week that the country is just a few weeks away from a mass rollout of a vaccination program, any unnoticed mutat stain could jeopardize the efforts to stop the healthcare crisis.
Mutation and The Issues
The virus strain which emerged in China's Wuhan is now very different from what is noticed in the US. Scientists believe that since the emergence of the SARS-CoV-2 in 2019, there are now tens of thousands of mutations that have circulated around the world. Professor Peacock expressed her concern about the mutations that involved the spike (S) protein which is the sole viral membrane protein responsible for cell entry.
The S protein is the section that promising vaccine candidates Pfizer and Moderna have used to develop their above 90 percent effective vaccines. Anything that can make changes to this 'spike' could affect vaccine efficacy.
According to Wendy Barclay, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, concerns have been growing that the novel Coronavirus mutations mean that the vaccines would not work the way people expect.
There is one strain, called N439K, which emerged in Scotland and infected around 500 people. While the Coronavirus strain disappeared during the first lockdown in the country, it was then found in the US, UK, and Europe. This was revealed when culling of millions of minks was ordered all over Europe after the finding of a mutant strain in Denmark, which plans to cull 17 million minks in total. In Greece, the slaughtering began after one of the animals tested positive for the novel Coronavirus at a farm near the village of Kaloneri.