Concerns over a coronavirus mutation in minks are leading to concerns about both a new pandemic and adversely affecting efforts to bring an effective coronavirus vaccine into circulation. And that’s leading to an extraordinary measure: The Danish government is planning a mass slaughter of as many as 15 million minks at more than 1,000 mink farms throughout the nation.
According to the Guardian, Prof. Kåre Mølbak, a vaccine expert and the director of infectious diseases at Denmark’s State Serum Institute, raised the concern about the mutation and what might happen if it goes unchecked.
“The worst-case scenario is that we would start off a new pandemic in Denmark,” Mølbak said. “There’s a risk that this mutated virus is so different from the others that we’d have to put new things in a vaccine and therefore [the mutation] would slam us all in the whole world back to the start.”
He did say that collective global knowledge about the coronavirus puts researchers and government officials in a better position to contain an outbreak, compared to when the pandemic started.
Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen, who announced the mink extermination initiative on Nov. 4, said the country’s armed forces would be deployed to carry it out, as the New York Times reported.
That article also noted that the coronavirus mutates slowly but regularly. The emergence of a different variant of the virus would not solely cause concern on its own. There is already one known mutation, D614G, that may increase viral loads and affect the transmission, as a study published in Nature on Oct. 26 explored.
CNBC reported that Frederiksen described the situation as “very, very serious,” warning the mutated virus could have “devastating consequences” worldwide.
The Times article also noted that the World Health Organization has been apprised of the situation.
Dr. Maria van Kerkhove, head of the WHO’s emerging diseases and zoonosis unit, told CNBC, “There is always a concern when you have a circulation and transmission from humans to animals and then animals to humans.”
“We’ve been seeing this for a number of months now and what we understand is the minks have been infected with contact from humans and it circulates in the mink and then it can pass back to humans,” she continued.
She said researchers are at work studying the mink mutation to better understand it.
She also has alerted the WHO’s regional offices around the globe to, as she put it, look “at the biosecurity on the mink farms, [look] at the surveillance that’s happening in these mink farms, and to support countries in taking the right steps to prevent the virus to continue to circulate in minks—and to prevent spillover events from happening.”