Since the outbreak of the new crown epidemic, people have been worried about the mutation of the virus. However, this kind of thing cannot be avoided, as the epidemic is not fully controlled after a long time, the mutation of the virus has happened after all. By far the most powerful variant of the new coronavirus is the Delta variant, whose horrific spread has made the epidemic even more difficult to control and is now rampant in more than 100 countries.
Just this week, the World Health Organization confirmed another new variant, naming it the Mu (Greek letter μ) variant. This variant, first discovered in Colombia in January 2021, has now spread to 39 countries and has become a new threat to humanity.
So, what exactly is a variant of the virus? Why are virus variants a cause for concern? We know that, like other organisms, the genetic material of most viruses is DNA, and a few record genetic information in the form of RNA, like the new coronavirus.
Regardless of the type, the structure of the virus itself is very simple, a set of genetic material wrapped in a protein shell, is a complete virus. The organisms we usually see in life are completely different, each individual body contains a very, very large number of cells, each cell has a set of genetic information, and only the reproductive cells are the way to pass this information to the next generation.
So, mutation in complex organisms is not very easy to achieve, and it is not always inherited. This is not the case for viruses. Once a gene is mutated, it’s a mutation of it as a whole, so it’s more easily inherited. Especially for RNA viruses like the new coronavirus, it is more likely to mutate than DNA viruses.
Mutation of genes goes both ways, and does not always become more powerful. Virus mutations are for the most part lethal, however, as long as there is that small percentage that is not lethal, they may multiply and grow. Moreover, these surviving variants may each have their own characteristics, and most worryingly, sometimes the mutations may include resistance to existing vaccines or more powerful transmission, as in the case of the currently feared Delta variant.
There is some relief that the Mew variant has not yet replaced the Delta variant as the most widespread and threatening variant in the world. However, this does not mean that we can relax our vigilance, because the Mew variant may have its own headache, so it must be watched.
The WHO has a “hierarchy” of virus variants. Currently, the Mew variant is classified as an “Interest” variant, along with Eta, Iota, Kappa and Lambda, which means that these variants have the potential to do more harm. Once such a variant does cause a more serious impact, perhaps even more than the other variants, it is upgraded to the “Concern” level. Currently, there are four variants that are “cause for concern”, namely Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Delta.
So, is it possible that the newly discovered Mew variant could be upgraded to a “worry” variant similar to Delta?
At the moment, it does not seem to be that powerful. But as its classification describes, it’s “something to keep an eye on. As of Aug. 29, the Mew variant had spread to 39 countries worldwide, infecting more than 4,500 people. The country with the highest number of infections is the United States, with 2,065 cases, much higher than Colombia, the second country in the world where the variant is found (852 cases). In addition to these two countries, Japan, Canada and South Korea, among others, have also reported cases of the Mew variant.
Even though more than two thousand people in the United States have been infected with the mu variant of the new coronavirus, their infectious disease expert, Fauci, says the mu variant is not yet considered the biggest threat to the United States. But it’s nothing to be proud of. It’s not that the Mew variant isn’t working, it’s that its companions are too strong – the Delta variant has an infection rate of more than 99 percent in the United States! Moreover, the Mew variant is not necessarily inferior to the Delta variant. According to the WHO report, there is the possibility of “immune escape potential” for the Mew variant. That is, some current vaccines may have very limited resistance to the mu variant.
Currently, most vaccines in the world target the echinoderm protein of the neo-coronavirus. This protein is the main weapon for the neo-coronavirus to break through human cellular defenses, and the spine protein of the neo-coronavirus has a great advantage in binding to human cells. So, the current vaccine is telling our immune system what this echinoderm protein looks like, and the immune system knows what to do to defend against the real neo-coronavirus when it invades. However, as the neo-coronavirus mutates, if a new echinocandin emerges, then the way the immune system has learned may not work.
Therefore, with the emergence of new variants such as the Mew variant, the most important question on everyone’s mind is: the virus has mutated, should we still get the vaccine?
For the previous variants, our vaccine can still show considerable effectiveness. As for whether the Mew variant can escape our vaccine, no research results have been published yet. Even if it can, it is not all the new coronavirus after all, and vaccination is still very necessary to avoid being infected by other variants. Therefore, we also urge everyone to get vaccinated, which is responsible for themselves and also considered to contribute to the society.
Paul Griffin, associate professor of infectious diseases and microbiology at the University of Queensland, also pointed out that while universal vaccination may put evolutionary pressure on viruses to evolve vaccine-resistant variants. But overall, the benefits of universal vaccination far outweigh the risks of not knowing if this will actually happen.
He also pointed out that there is no need to worry too much about mu variants at this point, and that many vaccines are still very good at fighting them. Moreover, there will be regular booster shots in the future that will be more effective against the new coronaviruses. That said, the best means of getting rid of neo-coronavirus variants altogether is to contain them altogether. However, at the moment, it seems that the vast majority of countries in the world do not have sufficient efforts to control the epidemic, and I am afraid it is quite difficult to get rid of the variants.
I still hope that the countries of the world will work together to completely control the epidemic through truly effective means, rather than relaxing their vigilance when the number of infections decreases slightly, as is the case now, which I’m afraid will make it difficult to bring the epidemic to a complete end.