A new variant of COVID-19 was detected by the World Health Organization, which is called the Mu variant. It was first spotted in January 2021 in Columbia and since then it has been detected in 39 countries so far. 48 cases of Mu variant or B.1.621 variant have been confirmed in Columbia alone. Therefore, it has already been labeled as a “variant of interest”.
The scientists have informed that this variant has mutations, and it could be resistant to vaccines. But the good thing is that it has not yet taken over the Delta variant, the variant that is dominating in most parts of the world. However, this variant must not be underestimated either.
Variant Of Interest
Genomic sequencing helps scientists track the evolution of the virus and also indicates how it adapts and mutates. While some mutations are not in favor of the virus, some are beneficial and allow it to spread better, and also help it evade the immunity that is provided by the vaccines.
If the mutation level is higher in the virus and it is suspected to be harmful, then it can be designated as a “variant of interest”. Eta, Lota, Kappa, and Lambda are the four other variants of interest other than the Mu variant.
If more evidence is found regarding the severity of the Mu variant and that it’s beginning to overtake other variants like Delta, then it will be upgraded to a “variant of concern”. The list of other ‘variants of concern’ includes Alpha, Beta, Gamma, and Delta.
The COVID vaccines target what is called the “spike protein” of the virus. The virus uses this to enter the cells. The vaccines expose one’s body to a part of the virus and it is usually the spike protein. This helps the immune system to learn to fight off the virus upon encounter with it.
The changes in the spike protein of a variant will bring down the effectiveness of the vaccines being provided to the masses. The World Health Organization has informed that the preliminary evidence has revealed that the Mu variant is likely to evade the antibodies that are provided by the vaccines.
But one must remember that this analysis is drawn from a lab study and that there is no certainty yet as to how the variant will affect the population. More research is needed to conclude how this variant behaves in the human body, and scientists and researchers are working on that.
On the brighter side, the vaccines are currently protecting people very well against symptomatic infection and also from adverse effects of all viruses that have been detected so far.
Will Vaccines Protect Us Forever?
There is always a chance that a new variant will come to the surface one day and it might significantly avoid and resist the protection that vaccines offer us. This variant would be called an ‘escape variant’.
It is hard to predict or judge the occurrence of these events, but if there is a widespread transmission of the virus in the community, there are chances of the birth of such a variant. However, the vaccine manufacturers claim to be well prepared for such instances. Some of these manufacturers are developing vaccines for new variants already.
If an escape variant is detected, then the solution would be the alteration of the existing vaccines to match them with the new variants, and this can be done within 6 to 8 weeks. Medical regulators all over the world are expected to accelerate the approval process for making this possible. A little bit of research and study would be required, but that will be done quickly.
It is not irrational to think that we might see a variant that might gradually overtake Delta in terms of infectiousness. Most scientists believe that this variant is at least 50% more infectious than the Alpha variant, and the Alpha variant was 50% more infectious than the original strain.
According to evolutionary theories, the virus is most likely to become more transmissible over time, but it will become less severe. However, these are still the early days of this virus and it might lead to unexpected things.
The only way to combat this virus is by getting more and more people vaccinated. This will ensure that there are fewer or no susceptible hosts that can carry or lead to the spread or mutation of the virus. Mu variant is only in its initial phase and it would be foolish to underestimate it. Therefore, it is being carefully studied, and scientists and researchers are already trying to come up with ways to combat this variant.