How Worried Should You Be About a New Coronavirus Mutation?

A new variant of the coronavirus has been discovered in the UK and scientists believe it may be more infectious than other lines of the virus that are more prevalent around the world. So how important is it? Short answer: we don’t quite know yet.

What do we know

On December 8, Science reports , scientists and public health experts saw a map showing an area in the southeast of England is on the rise. Genetic analysis of the virus that was spreading there showed that it was unexpectedly different from others circulating elsewhere.

There are concerns that the rise in cases may be due to the fact that this option is more transferable than others. This is not yet fully understood. But several European countries have now blocked travel in an attempt to prevent a new option from emerging.

Is mutation bad?

Not necessary. Viruses mutate all the time, and coronavirus is no exception. Scientists can track the spread of the virus in part by sequencing its genome. If two people are infected with COVID and their viruses are identical or nearly identical, they probably got it from the same place. If they each have different variants of the virus, they probably got it from different sources. Here you can see a giant family tree of all coronavirus mutations in the world .

In this sense, mutations are happening all the time, but so far it has really not changed anything about what the coronavirus is or how we should respond to it.

Is this mutation worse than others?

It’s too early to tell. A new variant, named B.1.1.7, is currently being studied to determine if it differs from other coronaviruses in any significant way. It may be more contagious than others. We don’t have proof of this yet, so we’ll have to wait and see.

Will he be able to avoid vaccination?

Again, we don’t know yet. B.1.1.7 there are 17 places where its genome differs from that of close relatives. About half of these are found in the spike protein, which is troubling.

Freshly deployed mRNA vaccines cause our bodies to make a spike protein, and then our immune system reacts to this protein and prepares to recognize any future invaders carrying the same protein.

In theory, changes in the spike protein could allow it to avoid vaccination. But that depends on the specific characteristics of the new spike protein and whether our immune systems can recognize it. We simply do not have an answer to this question yet.

If it is indeed more common, how can we stop it?

The new variant has been circulating in England since at least September 20, so it is unlikely that the closure of the borders now will completely stop its spread. Most likely, the option has already arrived in other countries. But these restrictions could at least reduce the number of people with the new option who enter these countries.

Otherwise, we must continue our efforts – containing the highly hereditary coronavirus is exactly what we have been trying to do all this time, isn’t it? Masks, distance and ventilation will continue to matter if this new option comes into play; they will just matter more.

Trevor Bedford, a scientist who studies mutations in the virus, tweeted that the mutation in the UK “deserves close scrutiny” but is unlikely to have too much impact on vaccine adoption. Most circulating viruses do not have significant mutations in their spike proteins. If one of the options becomes more common and it is possible to avoid vaccination, we will need to update the vaccine accordingly.

Remember, there is no conclusive evidence that it is less susceptible to the vaccine or causes more severe illness. It also seems to be more transferable, but this issue has not been studied very well yet. Experts discussing the British option seem to be following it closely, but do not think it is time to panic.

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