New study shows coronavirus mutating rapidly
Also on Wednesday, a new study of more than 5,000 genetic sequences of the coronavirus reveals the virus’s continual accumulation of mutations, one of which may have made it more contagious, the Washington Post reported.
But researchers did not find that these mutations have made the virus deadlier.
Every mutation is a roll of the dice, and with transmission so widespread in the United States that the virus has had plenty of opportunities to change, potentially with troublesome consequences, study author James Musser, of Houston Methodist Hospital, told the Post.
“We have given this virus a lot of chances,” Musser said. “There is a huge population size out there right now.”
The research was posted on the preprint server MedRxiv and has not been peer-reviewed. Earlier this month, a larger batch of sequences was published by scientists in the United Kingdom. Those scientists also concluded that a mutation that changes the structure of the “spike protein” on the surface of the virus may be driving the outsized spread of that particular strain.
David Morens, a top virologist at the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said the finding “may have implications for our ability to control it.”
“Wearing masks, washing our hands, all those things are barriers to transmissibility, or contagion, but as the virus becomes more contagious it statistically is better at getting around those barriers,” Morens explained.
Not only that, the virus may be able dampen the durability of any vaccine, Morens added.
“Although we don’t know yet, it is well within the realm of possibility that this coronavirus, when our population-level immunity gets high enough, this coronavirus will find a way to get around our immunity,” Morens said. “If that happened, we’d be in the same situation as with flu. We’ll have to chase the virus and, as it mutates, we’ll have to tinker with our vaccine.”
One-shot vaccine moves to larger trials
In news that might help make vaccinating all Americans against COVID-19 more easy to accomplish, the first coronavirus vaccine that only requires a single shot has entered the final stages of testing in the United States, the Post reported.