Story at a glance

  • Denmark is moving forward with plans to cull its entire mink population, up to 17 million animals, over concerns the strain could be more resistant to potential COVID-19 vaccines.
  • WHO officials on Friday said it’s monitoring the mutation but downplayed the current risk to humans.
  • “Right now, the evidence that we have doesn’t suggest that this variant is in any way different in the way it behaves. It may have a slightly different signature, but it is still the same virus,” Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO Health Emergencies Program, said during a news conference.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says it’s monitoring a mutated strain of coronavirus found in mink in Denmark but cautioned it is too early to tell if the variant threatened the effectiveness of a potential vaccine. 

Denmark on Wednesday announced it’s moving forward with plans to cull its entire mink population, up to 17 million animals, due to the strain. Health authorities in Denmark said early lab results found the variant showed less sensitivity to antibodies, potentially making it more resistant to future COVID-19 vaccines. There are at least 12 known cases in which humans have been infected with the mutated virus that originated on mink farms. 


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But the WHO on Friday emphasized that, so far, there is no evidence that the mutation poses an increased danger to humans. 

“I think it’s very important to recognize that these types of things happen all the time. This is a global pandemic, many millions of people have been infected and many millions of animals have been exposed,” Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO Health Emergencies Program, said during a news conference in Geneva. 

“Right now, the evidence that we have doesn’t suggest that this variant is in any way different in the way it behaves. It may have a slightly different signature, but it is still the same virus,” he said. 

Ryan said health officials need to evaluate whether the strain carries any differences in transmission, clinical severity or whether there is any implication for diagnostics or vaccines, but said “we’re a long, long way away from making any determination of that kind.” 

Viruses naturally mutate, and scientists have observed minor mutations in the new novel coronavirus, but none that have affected its ability to spread or cause disease in any significant way. 

Denmark is one of the world’s largest mink fur exporters and the culling of the country’s minks could cost $785 million, according to The Associated Press

Outbreaks at mink farms have persisted in Denmark over the course of the coronavirus pandemic despite ongoing efforts by the government to cull herds of infected animals. Last month, Denmark began culling millions of minks in the northern part of the country. 

On Friday, more than a quarter million residents in Denmark went into lockdown in a northern region of the country where most mink farms are located. 


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Published on Nov 06, 2020