How dangerous are the coronavirus mutations?

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Two novel variants (mutations) of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus have spread massively in the UK and South Africa in recent weeks. Meanwhile, both mutations have also been detected in COVID-19 infected persons in Austria. What does this mean for the protective effect of already approved vaccines?

What do we know about the corona mutations from the UK?
Since the fall of 2020, the so-called variant B.1.1.7 of the coronavirus has been spreading in the United Kingdom. The mutation has now established itself in all parts of the UK, where it accounts for an increasing percentage of all recorded SARS-CoV-2 viruses. People worldwide have already contracted this new form of the virus. As confirmed by the Health Ministry in Austria infections of the COVID variant have been recorded in the country.

Background: When viruses enter body cells, they multiply there. This means that countless duplicates are created. During these processes, small copying errors occur time and again. These are natural and random mutations that in most cases do not have serious consequences. Even before the new virus variants, the SARS-CoV2 coronavirus has already mutated. But special attention is paid to the new forms, because: Laboratory tests and a risk assessment by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) have shown that the variant known as “B1.1.7” transmits from person to person even more easily than the previously widespread forms. It has an increased number of replicates and a higher viral load. According to current knowledge, however, this is not necessarily associated with a more severe course of the disease. Depending on the physical condition, persons infected with “B1.1.7” may develop a severe disease that can also lead to death. Further investigations will provide a clearer picture of the mutant and allow a better assessment of its implications for Germany.

What do we know about the corona mutations from South Africa?
In December 2020, another mutation became particularly conspicuous – the so-called virus variant B.1.351 from South Africa. According to studies, this is also associated with a higher risk of transmission. The first cases of B.1.351 have so far been detected in isolated cases in Europe, including the United Kingdom, Sweden, France, Finland and Germany.

What measures can I take to prevent the spread of the coronavirus mutation?
The dynamics of the spread of both variants B.1.1.7 and B.1.351 in some states is worrying. It is true that it has not yet been fully clarified how the new variants will affect the situation in Austria. However, the situation could worsen. Therefore, it is even more important to consistently adhere to the federal state regulations in order to prevent infections with COVID-19 and to contain the spread of the new, even more easily transmissible variants.

Does corona vaccination work despite infection with a mutation variant?
According to the current state of science, it can be assumed that the virus mutations observed so far from Great Britain and South Africa do not affect the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccines approved to date. The Paul Ehrlich Institute (PEI) in Germany sees the reason in the fact that the recognition sites of the surface spike protein (S protein), which are relevant for immune protection, are little affected by the virus mutations.

According to experts, the vaccines approved so far by the European Commission, i.e. those of the German company BioNTech and the U.S. company Moderna, also offer sufficient protection despite corona mutations. In these cases, the vaccines are so-called mRNA vaccines, which can be quickly adapted to mutations due to their simple structure.

Stopping the spread of the coronavirus mutation: What measures is the Austrian government taking?
It is important to work together to prevent the spread of the virus in Austria as far as possible. The government has adopted the following preventive measures:

Entry regulation:
Anyone entering the country from a virus variant area must prove before entry that she or he is not infected with the coronavirus. There are no exceptions to the obligation to provide proof .

In addition, there is a testing obligation. A corresponding result must be available no later than 48 hours after entry.

  • hp, sources: netdoktor.at, gesundheitsminiterium.at/picture: pixabay.com
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