Pfizer’s Covid vaccine WILL work against new mink mutant strain, expert says

PFIZER'S coronavirus vaccine will protect against a new mutant mink strain, a top expert has claimed.

Concerns about the impact on vaccine development were raised after a "unique variant" of Covid-19 was found in 12 people infected by minks.

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And yesterday Health Secretary Matt Hancock warned it could pose a grave threat to Brits as it might not respond to a possible jab.

But speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today Programme, one of the country's leading scientists Prof Peter Openshaw, of Imperial College London, attempted to quell those fears.

He told the broadcaster today that Pfizer's jab "almost certainly will" work against a mutant strain because it uses mRNA technology.

The vaccine works by using the virus's genetic code, rather than any part of the virus itself, and is injected into the body where it enters cells and tells them to create antigens.

RAPID RE-FORMULATION

Prof Openshaw said that because of this technology, it means that scientists can tweak the genetic code quickly if needed.

He said: "There are mutations in that mink virus which make it slightly less susceptible to the antibody which is generated by the vaccines.

"One of the great things about RNA technology is that you can re-formulate it relatively rapidly.

"The whole process in development can be very fast so as the virus changes so the vaccine changes, if it's necessary but at the moment I don't think it needs to be."

It comes after the Health Secretary warned that the new Covid mink strand could pose a grave threat to Brits.

Matt Hancock told MPs yesterday the mutant strain may not respond to a vaccine because it may not be killed off by antibodies.

But he told the nation not to panic as ministers had acted quickly to crack down on cases leaving Denmark, where it erupted.

The mink strain, dubbed Covid 2 by some scientists, has been found in 12 people in the Scandinavian country having spread from mink to humans.

Mr Hancock told MPs: "Although the chance of this variant becoming widespread is low, the consequences should that happen would be grave."

He said Britain acted quickly by removing the travel corridor from Denmark on Friday, and after further clinical analysis imposing a full ban on all international travel from the country at the weekend.

Anyone coming back must isolate for two weeks.

Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty made the call last week after the concerning news from Denmark was laid bare.

People who are in hospital and have recently returned from the country must also be treated in isolation.

MINK CULL

Denmark is the world's largest mink fur exporter and produces an estimated 17 million furs per year.

The Danish government has ordered the cull of all of its minks bred in the country's 1,139 mink farms.

Part of the country has been put into lockdown after Danish authorities discovered genetic changes they say could undermine the effectiveness of a Covid vaccine.

Danish scientists are concerned about one particular mink-related strain, which has been found in 12 people.

 

They say that the mutation, dubbed "cluster five", is less sensitive to protective antibodies and could hamper vaccine development.

The World Health Organisation said while the reports are concerning, further studies are needed to understand the implications for treatments and vaccines.

Chief WHO scientist, Soumya Swaminathan, said: "We need to wait and see what the implications are but I don't think we should come to any conclusions about whether this particular mutation is going to impact vaccine efficacy."

Prof Ian Jones, a virologist at the University of Reading, said the idea that the virus had mutated in mink was "not surprising" but could be dangerous.

"The danger is that the mutated virus could then spread back into man and evade any vaccine response which would have been designed to the original, non-mutated version."

Other experts have said that while it sounds worrying, viruses – such as influenza – change constantly and scientists have to adapt vaccines depending on which strain is circulating.

Dr Colin Butter, professor of bioveterinary science at the University of Lincoln, said: “This is obviously cause for concern but can, if necessary, be addressed with continual modification of the vaccine, as for seasonal flu."

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