BRISBANE: The World Health Organization declared a new coronavirus “variant of interest,” the Mu variant, this week. It was discovered for the first time in Colombia in January 2021 and has since been discovered in approximately 39 nations.
Mu contains mutations that suggest it may be able to evade part of the protection provided by Covid vaccinations.
However, although being in existence since January 2021, it does not appear to be outcompeting Delta, the dominant variety in much of the world.
We would have expected to observe signs of this if Mu was actually a bad variety, but we haven’t yet.
What’s a variant of interest?
Frequent genomic sequencing, which we haven’t done before on this scale, has been an outstanding feature of our Covid reaction. This monitors and maps the virus’s evolution as it adapts and mutates in real-time.
Some modifications will be harmful to the virus, while others may be helpful, allowing it to spread more quickly, avoid vaccine protection, and even evade Covid tests.
If the virus undergoes modifications that make it appear as if it has the potential to cause greater harm, we may classify it as a “variant of interest.”
Mutations in Mu may confer some of these characteristics, but the evidence is still accumulating.
Eta, Iota, Kappa, and Lambda are the other four versions of interest.
If there’s enough proof that Mu is becoming more dangerous and overtaking other variants like Delta, it could be promoted to a “variant of concern.” Alpha, Beta, Gamma, and Delta are the four varieties of concern.
Can it escape vaccines?
The majority of Covid vaccinations target the virus’s “spike protein,” which it utilizes to enter our cells. Our vaccinations expose us to a portion of the virus, most frequently the spike protein, so that our immune systems may learn to resist it if it comes into contact with it.
The effectiveness of our vaccinations may be harmed if a variation contains major alterations in the spike protein.
According to the WHO, preliminary evidence suggests that the Mu form may be able to resist some of the antibodies produced by vaccination.
We can’t be sure how the mutation will play out in the population because this data comes from laboratory investigations.
More research is needed to be clear about how it behaves in humans, and this work is underway.
The good news is that our vaccinations are presently effective against symptomatic infection and severe illness caused by all known viral types.
Vaccines may not protect forever
There’s a good chance that a new version will emerge one day that will be able to greatly evade the protection provided by our vaccines, which are based on the virus’s original strain. This is referred to as an “escape variation.”
It’s difficult to say whether or not this will happen, but widespread community transmission of the virus raises the possibility of such a variety arising.
However, if this occurs, the main Covid vaccine makers are well prepared. Some companies, such as Delta, are already working on vaccinations for new types.
If an escape variety is discovered, some vaccine producers may be able to modify their existing vaccinations to meet the new version within 6-8 weeks. To make this conceivable, medical regulators around the world would most likely speed up the clearance procedure. Certain studies would be required, but they could be completed quickly if the new vaccine had essentially the same qualities as the current one.
It’s feasible that a variant will likely overtake Delta in terms of infectiousness. Scientists estimate that it is at least 50% more infectious than the Alpha variety, which was 50% more infectious than the original strain.
According to evolutionary theory, the virus will become more transmissible over time, but less severe, because a virus seeks to spread as much as possible without killing its host. However, this isn’t necessarily how SARS-CoV-2 will play out, as we’re still in the early stages of the virus.
The greatest strategy to battle variations is to vaccinate as many individuals as possible, reducing the number of susceptible hosts where the virus can replicate and mutate.
There’s a chance that once the majority of the globe has been vaccinated, vaccines will put “selection pressure” on the virus, causing it to mutate to avoid vaccines. However, the benefits of more people being vaccinated outweigh the danger.
I don’t believe it’s time to worry about Mu just yet. We could be more concerned if it became a “variant of concern.” However, we have some incredible tools at our disposal to combat this virus, including a number of effective vaccinations, the majority of which can be quickly tailored to new variations.
We’ll very certainly need booster shots in the future to protect us from variations.