Researchers say vaccine developers need to consider the impact of these “accumulating mutations… to avoid potential pitfalls”.
News reporter @DavidMercerSky
Wednesday 22 April 2020 06:08, UK
Researchers from Zhejiang University said they have “direct evidence” that the virus “has acquired mutations capable of substantially changing its pathogenicity”.
The study was written by a team including Professor Li Lanjuan, one of China’s top scientists who was reportedly the first expert to propose a lockdown in Wuhan – where COVID-19 originated.
Samples were taken from 11 patients admitted to hospitals in Hangzhou, 470 miles east of Wuhan, between 22 January and 4 February during the early phase of the outbreak.
Using “ultra-deep sequencing”, researchers identified 33 mutations of the coronavirus – known as SARS-CoV-2 – of which 19 were new.https://tpc.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.htmlAdvertisement
The deadliest mutations in the patients in the study had also been found in most patients across Europe, the South China Morning Post reported.
Meanwhile, the milder strains were the predominant types found in parts of the United States, such as Washington state, the newspaper said.
COVID-19 Will Mutate — What That Means for a Vaccine
- Every virus mutates; it’s part of the virus life cycle. Those shifts and changes aren’t always a big deal.
- The new coronavirus is an RNA virus: a collection of genetic material packed inside a protein shell.
- RNA viruses, like the flu and measles, are more prone to changes and mutations compared with DNA viruses, such as herpes, smallpox, and human papillomavirus (HPV).
As the new coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 makes its way around the world, there’s been an uptick in predictions that the virus will mutate into something deadlier and become an even scarier threat to humanity.
“Mutation. The word naturally conjures fears of unexpected and freakish changes,” researchers wrote in a reportTrusted Source published in Nature Microbiology in late February. “Ill-informed discussions of mutations thrive during virus outbreaks,” they continued, which is exactly what we’re seeing with SARS-CoV-2.
The new coronavirus is an RNA virus: a collection of genetic material packed inside a protein shell.
Once an RNA virus makes contact with a host, it starts to make new copies of itself that can go on to infect other cells.
RNA viruses, like the flu and measles, are more prone to changes and mutations compared with DNA viruses, such as herpes, smallpox, and human papillomavirus (HPV).
“In the world of RNA viruses, change is the norm. We expect RNA viruses to change frequently. That’s just their nature,” said Dr. Mark Schleiss, a pediatric infectious disease specialist and investigator with the Institute for Molecular Virology at the University of Minnesota.
SARS-CoV-2 is no exception, and over the past few months it has been mutating.
But the virus has mutated at a very slow pace. And when it does mutate, the new copies aren’t far off from the original virus.
“The sequences of the original isolates from China are very close to those in viruses circulating in the U.S. and the rest of the world,” said Dr. John Rose, a senior research scientist in the department of pathology at Yale Medicine who’s helping develop a COVID-19 vaccine.
The virus mutations, like what’s going around in Italy and also New York, don’t seem to be any more infectious or fatal than the original strain that appeared in Wuhan, China, in late December.
Though there’s the very rare chance a virus could mutate to be more aggressive, if anything, RNA viruses are more likely to mutate into a weaker version.
“Nearly all mutations will make some part of the virus work less well than before. The most common thing is for mutations to appear and die out again quickly,” said Dr. Benjamin Neuman, the head of the biology department at Texas A&M University-Texarkana.
But the characteristics and traits of that original strain and its mutations aren’t vastly different from one another.
The mutations likely won’t interfere with the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccine.
In fact, the slow and mild nature of the mutations is good news for a vaccine.
“The virus is still so similar now to the initial sequence that there isn’t really much reason to think the differences will matter in terms of vaccine,” Neuman said.
Vaccines, in general, tend to target an early version of the virus.
When we finally have a COVID-19 vaccine, it will most likely protect people against the “vast majority of circulating COVID-19 strains for the foreseeable mutations,” Schleiss said.
Even if random mutations do occur down the road, Schleiss believes the worst-case scenario is that we’ll see some breakthrough infections, but we wouldn’t have breakthrough life-threatening disease.
It’s still unclear exactly how long immunity will last once a person’s immune system beats the infection.
Once an infection leaves the body, it leaves markers in the immune system — or antibodies — that can quickly identify and fight the virus if it were to reappear in the future.
Even if, years down the road, those COVID-19 antibodies wear off and SARS-CoV-2 makes a comeback, our bodies will still remember the infection and be ready to fight.
“Vaccines confer memory,” Schleiss said. Even if a person no longer has high levels of antibodies because their immunity has worn out, certain cells will mobilize and come into action if they detect the virus.
The new coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 has already mutated a handful of times, which has many people wondering whether the mutations could lead to a more severe, deadlier disease.
According to experts, the new mutations are extremely similar to the original virus that appeared in Wuhan, China, and don’t seem to be any more aggressive.
Because the mutations are so similar, a vaccine would likely protect people against not only the original strain but new mutations as well.HEALTHLINE RESOURCESDo you have symptoms of COVID-19? Your options for care
Call your primary care provider and discuss symptoms before visiting a healthcare facility, or click below to find a local provider. If this is an emergency, call 911, and tell the operator you have COVID-19.FIND A DOCTORFEEDBACK:
Written by Julia Ries on April 6, 2020 – Fact checked by