The coronavirus is not mutating as quickly as feared and that is excellent news to develop the expected vaccine.
All viruses evolve over time. It is something inherent to life. A give and take between cells, bacteria, viruses and other pathogens that takes the form of a very long succession of defensive barriers and strategies to overcome them. So everyone looked at SARS-CoV-2 suspiciously.
Above all, because the coronavirus is an RNA virus and, as such, it has high mutation rates to the point that there are multiple variants of each virus within the same person. In fact, in recent weeks we have seen news about different strains or about how much had changed on his trip from Wuhan to Spain. However, as we get to know SARS-CoV-2 better, everything seems to indicate that the pathogen changes less than we expected.
"Much less than the flu"
Peter Thielen, a molecular geneticist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, is studying more than 1,000 different samples of the virus, and his findings, as he explained in the Washington Post, are reassuring. There are no more than ten significant genetic differences between the original virus and the strains that are circulating in the United States and Europe.
And that, according to Thielen, means that "at this point [in the research], the mutation rate of the virus suggests that the SARS-CoV-2 vaccine may be a single vaccine, rather than a new vaccine every year" . That is, it would be more like the measles or chickenpox vaccine than the flu vaccine. It is not something that is clear. Other experts point out that we will most likely find ourselves somewhere in between: the coronavirus will "circumvent" the vaccine, but it will take years to do so.
What is clear is that we move away from the seasonal scenario. A few days ago, the Sequencing and Bioinformatics Service and the research group in Molecular Epidemiology of FISABIO published the first sequence of a 'Spanish' SARS-CoV-2 and, as explained by the project coordinator, Fernando González-Candelas, the data "It has not yet revealed information about whether the virus's aggressiveness, virulence, or transmission patterns are changing."
However, "with these sequences it is already known that the virus mutates less than the influenza virus," González-Candelas explained at SINC. Even 10 times less, some studies point out. But beyond the exact figures, which will change in the coming days, it seems like a clear conclusion. Both Stanley Perlman of the University of Iowa and Benjamin Neuman of Texas A&M University agree that "the virus has not mutated significantly" and that this is excellent news for the vaccine search.
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