Coronavirus isn't mutating quickly, suggesting a vaccine would offer lasting protection

26 Mars, 2020, 02:57 | Auteur: Yves Courtet
  • Crystal Cox  Business Insider

A new study from Italian researchers suggests that the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, which is the cause of the COVID-19 disease now causing a global health crisis, is relatively slow to mutate - meaning that any effective vaccine that is developed to prevent people from getting infected should be broadly effective across geographically separated populations over a relatively long period of time.

"Had we investigated other viruses we might have expected up to dozens of new mutations after so many infectious cycles in patients".

Speaking with The Washington Post, Peter Thielen, a Molecular Geneticist at the Applied Physics Laboratory of Johns Hopkins University, stated that the virus strain now spreading through the U.S. has less than 10 genetic differences compared to that first reported and sequenced in Wuhan, China despite the large number of infections already recorded worldwide.

The differences between the two virus samples was very small, speaking in terms of genetic variation - only five new variants appeared in the later Italian samples, which is an early indication that the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus remains fairly stable even over the course of a long train of transmission across multiple individuals and populations.

SARS-CoV-2, a novel coronavirus which causes the COVID-19 disease, binds to angiotensin converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) receptors in the lower respiratory tracts of infected patients to gain entry into the lungs.

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"I would expect a vaccine for coronavirus would have a similar profile to those vaccines".

Virologists, Benjamin Neuman and Stanley Perlman of Texas A&M University and the University of Iowa were both on the worldwide committee that gave name to the virus.

"The virus has not mutated to any significant extent", Perlman said.

As of Tuesday afternoon, there are just over 8,000 cases of COVID-19 in the United Kingdom and 423 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins University and Medicine real-time map. "If it's still around in a year, by that point we might have some diversity", Neuman said. When two flu viruses are in the same cell, they can swap some segments, potentially creating a new combination instantly this is how the H1N1 swine flu originated.

It is possible that a small mutation in the virus could have outsized effects in the clinical outcome of COVID-19, the experts say. But there's no sign that it is happening with the new coronavirus. "Right now, disease severity is much more likely to be driven by other factors".

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