BRITISH scientists are monitoring 4,000 deadly strains of coronavirus amid fears that a mutation could threaten the UK.
Millions of pounds are being pumped into research that tracks new strains of coronavirus – which could potentially resist vaccines and treatments that have already been created.
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A vaccine could potentially cause an explosion in mutations of coronavirus – which is a natural, but worrying reaction.
As the virus fends for itself and tries to avoid extinction, it could cause a new strain to circulate which our current antibodies may not be able to protect us from.
Professor Sharon Peacock, director of the Covid-19 Genomics UK, said it was vital to step up surveillance because many of the vaccines target the same spike protein on the virus surface.
She said: “Once we start to use vaccines in the general population, that will put an evolutionary driver, a selection pressure, on viruses.
“Viruses are going to want to escape the effect of vaccines, because that’s what evolution is about.”
Scientists believe that since the virus emerged a year ago, there are now tens of thousands of mutations circulating globally.
Most mutations in the pandemic have vanished as quickly as they emerged – however, Prof Peacock is increasingly concerned about mutations that involve the spike protein.
The spike protein is the needle-like part of the virus that allows it to attack the human body – and it is this section that Pfizer and Moderna have used to make their successful vaccines.
So, anything that can change this “spike” could affect how well vaccines work.
Wendy Barclay, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, said last week that there was a “worry” that the coronavirus mutations mean that the vaccines “won’t work so well as we’d hope them to.”
One of the mutant strains, called N439K, emerged in Scotland and infected at least 500 people – but it disappeared during the first national lockdown.
But scientists have now found the strain in the US, Europe and the UK.
This comes as the culling of millions of minks was ordered all over Europe after a mutant strain of the virus was found in Denmark.
The country began killing farmed minks in the north of the country and plans to cull 17 million in all.
In Greece, the culling began after some of the animals tested positive for the coronavirus at a farm near the village of Kaloneri.
Meanwhile, Britain is just weeks away from a mass roll out of a Covid vaccination programme, Matt Hancock revealed earlier this week.
As soon as the jabs are revealed to be safe, the NHS will gear up for a huge vaccine push across the nation to keep people safe from coronavirus.
Mr Hancock has previously said that the vaccine programme will start at the beginning of December – if the jabs get the green safety light.
It will start with NHS staff, the vulnerable and the elderly, and make its way down through the age groups after that.