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The Mu mutation: Why scientists look at it with interest and are a little scared


For the time being, approved vaccines are considered to be sufficiently effective against all the more common mutations in the coronavirus, including the currently dominant Delta. They reduce the likelihood of severe flow and death and allow authorities to put behind them national lockdowns and large-scale restrictions.

When the World Health Organization (WHO) decided to avoid political complications with the names of the coronavirus strains named after the countries where they were found, the Greek alphabet seemed a good substitute. But just a few months later, the new options have already halved it.

Mu is the 12th letter of the Greek alphabet and the latest variant of interest of the SARS-CoV-2 virus causing COVID-19. The World Health Organization says it is beginning to monitor it for fears that it could break the immunity of people now vaccinated against the infection.

Where did “Mu” come from?

The first identification of the Mu variant was made in January in Colombia, and most of the sequenced samples are still of South American origin. It has also been detected in Europe and Asia in recent weeks. So far, only 0.1% of the samples tested in the world are associated with this strain. Its official scientific designation is VUI-21JUL-01 or B.1.621 depending on the classification used.

Where does “Mu” meet?

The WHO notes that in a few months, the mutation has become significantly more prevalent in Colombia and Ecuador, where it now accounts for 39% and 13% of COVID-19 cases, respectively. To date, the option has been isolated in 47 countries, including the United States, Hong Kong and the United Kingdom. The Japanese Ministry of Health confirmed that two cases of “Mu” were discovered in June and July during airport inspections, the first in a passenger arriving from the United Arab Emirates, and the second – from the United Kingdom. Both were asymptomatic. The United Kingdom, for its part, has reported at least 32 confirmed cases of the new option.

Why is Mu interesting to epidemiologists?

What excites scientists and causes concern in the WHO are several mutations in the spines of the virus protein that are attacked by vaccines. Mu found two, labeled E484K and K417N, that could reduce the effectiveness of protecting current vaccines in a similar way to the Beta variant found in South Africa last year. the Astra Zeneca vaccine, which showed less than 50% protection against infection, compared to nearly 70% of the other variants.

A third mutation in the Mu variant, called P681H, is also of some concern, as it could potentially make the variant more contagious, similar to the Alpha variant found in the UK.

The British Guardian writes that according to the August report of the Public Health England, there is no evidence so far that Mu is more contagious than Delta, and it seems unlikely that it will be transmitted more fast.

What does the entry of “Mu” as a variant of interest mean?

The information about “Mu” came out of the laboratories and hit the media after the WHO on Tuesday described it as a “variant of interest”. It is one of five options of interest to the coronavirus that are being monitored by the UN health agency as potentially dangerous options that would fuel new waves of infection.

Coronavirus mutations are divided into two categories: “variants of interest” and “variants of anxiety”.

Concerns of concern, such as the British (Alpha), South African (Beta), Brazilian (Gamma) and Indian (Delta), are a category that has been confirmed to be more lethal, more virulent or more resistant to vaccines than the original version of the virus.

In contrast, emerging variants may be referred to as a “variant of interest” if there is a suspicion that they are more contagious, more ill, or evade protection from vaccines, but the data are still insufficient. The option of interest can be transferred to the “anxiety option” category if more evidence emerges that it is doing one or more of these things.

The “Delta” variant, which now dominates the world, was also a “variant of interest” when it appeared, but not all observed mutations justify the concerns. The WHO has 11 such mutations that it no longer monitors.

What are the other options of interest?

Currently, the World Health Agency monitors five variants of interest, the most common of which (again in Latin America) is Lambada, which originates in Peru. In addition, “Kapa” from India, “Iota” from Australia and the United States, as well as “Eta”, whose origin is not specified, except that it is found in many countries.

Scientists have recently discovered another variant in South Africa that has already traveled the world and has already been found, including in Britain, Switzerland and Portugal. It is referred to as C.1.2 and is marked as an “observable option” because it is thought to be more contagious and avoid the protection of vaccines, according to a new study by the South African National Institute of Communicable Diseases and KwaZulu – The National Platform for Research and Sequencing.

So far, C.1.2 does not have a Greek letter, because the WHO believes that the available evidence is still unclear. The variant was first confirmed in May 2021, and its origin is traced to variant C.1, which has not been detected since January. The new variant has mutated significantly compared to C.1 and has more mutations than the original virus found in Wuhan than any other. Along with 10 other mutations, the WHO is keeping an eye on it, without yet placing it among the options that could prove potentially dangerous.

When will vaccines adapt to mutations?

So far, manufacturers of approved vaccines say they are effective enough against the most common options and meet WHO criteria for more than 50% protection.

The manufacturers of the Biontech / Pfizer vaccine are convinced that adapting it to a new variant that could break the effectiveness of their product would take no more than 100 days, as no new vaccine will be made, but only acting to “tune” to mutations. The approval process by drug regulators will also be shorter. For now, all manufacturers and drug regulators believe that there is no need for adjustments to their vaccines and vaccination campaigns can be carried out as planned.


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