The appearance of the new mutation of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, has once again put the whole world in suspense just as vaccination efforts are being carried out in numerous countries, including Puerto Rico, in order to reach herd immunity in summer 2021 if 70% or more of the population is inoculated by then.
The new variant of SARS-CoV-2 – which is known as VUI-202012/01 or B.1.1.7 lineage – was first announced on December 14 by UK Health Minister Matt Hancock. At the moment, it is known that the new variant could increase the transmission of Covid-19 by up to 70%, which means that it spreads more quickly.
Upon reexamining the SARS-CoV-2 database, it was discovered that the first sample was taken in Kent County, England, on September 20, according to international media reports. This new strain of the virus is not the same one that has been identified in South Africa and is presumed to be driving a second wave of Covid-19 in that nation.
In the case of South Africa, the variant has been named 501.V2 and was detected in recent months in the Eastern Cape. Since then, it has spread to other South African provinces, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize confirmed in a briefing.
“Unfortunately, we have to wait for more information. It is not uncommon for viruses to mutate. Mutations in viruses are common processes. It happens every day. There are viruses that mutate faster. Its replication process is faster. So it is not uncommon for there to be a mutation ”, explained the undersecretary of the Department of Health (DS), Iris Cardona.
The official added that the mutation has allowed it to be more contagious and spread more quickly, but the disease is not more severe. “That is the information that I have at this moment. We are watching it. We are monitoring the information that arrives, but we have no notice that something else is coming, ”the pediatrician and vaccination specialist added in an interview with THE SPOKESMAN.
When asked if the vaccination process on the island would be affected, Cardona stated that “the information I have is that it should not affect it at this time.” Precisely today a new shipment of the vaccine developed by Pfizer / BioNTech is due to arrive in Puerto Rico. The government expects 21,400 doses.
Dr. Jaime Claudio Villamil, honorary professor of Family Medicine at the Medical Sciences Campus (RCM) of the University of Puerto Rico (UPR), broke down the changes detected after the new mutation was identified. In an interview with this medium, he indicated that a group of mutations with 17 changes or alterations in the genetic code of this new strain of the virus has been identified, so he understands that it is important to monitor it.
“You always expect one to two changes in the virus per month. The genetic material of these viruses does not have much protection against duplication errors and their way of being is that they will change a lot … There are 17 changes, but there are four of these changes that have to do with how the spike, the spike protein , it sticks to the socket or to the receptor of the human cell ”, expressed Claudio Villamil.
Using an analogy, the doctor mentioned that “this spike has two parts. So, once it bites, she has to come with a scissors and cut the part that was stung forward, remove it from the middle, so that then the second part enters the cell ”.
“To a great extent, if you have a more active, sharper scissor, which can make that cut faster, then the more ineffective you will become. So that change in the ability to disarm part one of part two has made this virus 70% more infectious. It doesn’t make it more lethal, but it makes it more infectious, ”he added.
Claudio Villamil also elaborated on another of the changes that has been identified, which is related to the ability to detect the virus. “It has been camouflaged with this change. For example, in laboratory tests – the molecular test – three virus proteins are detected, but with this change now one of those three proteins comes out as missing. It has managed to evade detection. Anyway, the laboratories are going to see the other two, but they are adjustment changes, “he said.
Currently, the ability to track these changes is “extremely sophisticated”, something that was not there five or ten years ago, according to Claudio Villamil. “And that is important to tell the public. Furthermore, if vaccines that have been extremely successful had to be changed, the genetic code (which has been used) can be changed, as Moderna already said. If this becomes a threat and we begin to see that this virus mocks or survives the vaccine, the genetic code can be changed, but we do not expect or estimate that this is the case, “he concluded.