Just as vaccines were being authorised for emergency use and providing hope to people, the news of the Coronavirus mutating has startled the world in the past two days. It was last week that the new strain of Coronavirus called B.1.1.7 was found spreading faster in Southern England.
The cases in the country have skyrocketed since then, leading Prime Minister Boris Johnson to declare a 4 tier stringent lockdown across the nation to contain the spread of the virus. Countries like Canada, Germany, Hungary, Switzerland and India have closed their borders and halted their flights to and from the UK.
The new variant is said to be highly powerful and 70 per cent more contagious than the existing strain, although the severity of the new variant has not yet been confirmed by the labs. This new British strain has different mutations taking place in its spike protein which will affect how the virus enters the human cells. A new variant of the virus has also been identified by the scientists in South Africa and Australia as well.
Mutation of an influenza virus is a common process and part of its evolution. It is through mutations that viruses create genetic diversity enabling it to get stronger and escape the immune system of humans.
The concerns of the scientists are regarding the effectiveness of the vaccines against this new variant and the possibility of viruses getting adapted to new versions that resist the immune response. However several experts have come forward to point out that it will take several years for a virus to undergo mutations and render itself impotent to the vaccines.
Utmost care must be taken by the people to prevent themselves from contracting the virus and thereby prevent a super spreading scenario.
"It is a real warning that we need to pay closer attention. Certainly, these mutations are going to spread, and definitely, as the scientific community, we need to monitor these mutations, and we need to characterize which ones have effects" said Jesse Bloom, an evolutionary biologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Centre in Seattle.