New SARS-CoV-2 Strain Found in Northern Europe’s Mink Population

On November 5, 2020, Denmark reported 12 human cases of COVID-19 caused by a mutated SARS-CoV-2 strain carried by minks. Minks are a semi-aquatic mammal closely related to the weasel, otter, and ferret. Six other countries have reported outbreaks at mink farms including the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, and the United States. It is normal for viruses to mutate over time, but it can be concerning for vaccine development as genetic changes in a virus could make vaccines less effective.

Prior to the announcement of the mink strain, Researchers at the University of Bologna analyzed 48,635 coronavirus genomes and determined that of the 6 known strains at the time, mutation rates and variability are low, which, according to Federico Giorgi Ph.D., a researcher and coordinator of the study “means that the developing treatments, including a vaccine, might be effective against all virus strains.”

The most widespread of the strains is G and its related strains GR and GH. Those strains represent most cases in Europe and in the United States. L, the original strain from Wuhan China, is slowly dissipating.

The Statens Serum Institut (SSI) an infectious disease research institute in Copenhagen, was the first organization to identify the mink mutation. Their initial analysis of the mutation showed reduced sensitivity to antibodies, indicating a vaccine may not be viable with this mutation.

Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer announced today that their vaccine candidate proved 90% efficacy during Phase 3 trials, which is a tremendous achievement. It is too early to assess if the new strain will clash with Pfizer’s vaccine candidate or other vaccine methodologies as the Danish genome strain has just recently been released to a public database for all scientists to study.

Denmark’s Response to the Mutated Mink Strain

“It is about life and death not only in Denmark, but in the whole world.” – Mette Frederiksen, Prime Minister of Denmark

SSI research shows that humans transferred the virus to the minks, and the mink then infected their human handlers in kind. Prime Minister of Denmark Mette Frederiksen has called for the immediate eradication of all mink in the country which is roughly 12 million. These mink populations have passed along the mutated version to humans in North Jutland, Denmark and the SSI believes that of the viral cases in North Jutland, 5% are of the new virus mutation. The mutated strain has the potential to spread to other countries, putting the world at risk of “a coronavirus 2.0,” and in turn cause ramifications for vaccine research and development. The government of Denmark is increasing restrictions in the area of North Jutland and began improving testing capacities within the region.

VIGILINT will continue to monitor the situation and vaccine-related developments.