The World Health Organization (WHO) has called on European countries to be vigilant over a new COVID-19 mutation, which British health officials say is spreading faster than the previous type. The Czech National Reference Laboratory has already detected the mutated virus in Czech patients at the beginning of autumn. The finding that another variant of the virus is spreading through the Czech Republic with the second wave could also explain why some people who have already suffered COVID-19 have contracted it again. Thus, the new SARS-CoV-2 strain may be a complication for vaccine manufacturers, but should not render the vaccine ineffective. As virologist Pavel Plevka, head of the Structural Virology research group at CEITEC (Central European Institute of Technology) in Brno, told the Právo daily, “The detected mutation means a small change in the spike protein and is unlikely to affect the effectiveness of the vaccine”. The same conclusion was reached by British and Canadian scientists in the case of a more aggressive mutation in the virus that is currently spreading in Britain.
“In several places in the Czech Republic, especially in Prague and the Central Bohemian Region, new variants of coronavirus are appearing completely independently of each other. These are our findings since most of the samples we examine come from Prague and the surrounding area. However, the same situation is probably in the whole country,“” Helena Jiřincová, the head of the National Reference Laboratory for Influenza and Non-Influenza Respiratory Viral Diseases, explained. Reinfection caused by an altered virus “Some virus mutations arise independently of each other in response to the immune response of the human body, others spread in connection with human travel. The mutation is observed worldwide. Occasional cases of proven reinfection may be related to these changes,” added Jiřincová. Viruses are always mutating as it is in their nature, and coronavirus was never expected to be an exception. “By July, 12,000 coronavirus mutations had been identified,” noted Pavel Plevka. However, this specific mutation affects the spike protein, the so-called thistle or tip of the virus that the vaccine works with. “The mutation identified by Jiřincová’s team affects the structure of the spike protein, which forms protrusions on the surface of the virus.
Spike protein is the target of vaccines being developed to teach the immune system to recognize this projection. Thus, mutations in the spike protein may affect the effectiveness of vaccination,” Plevka further explained. But even if vaccination against a mutant type of coronavirus proves not to be so effective, according to Czech scientists, manufacturers can easily cope. “That’s why we can be happy about how amazing technology the vaccine manufacturers have used. These are mRNA vaccines, and their advantage is that scientists can easily change the matrix used to make the protein. That is, the manufacturer can respond quickly to other variants of the virus. I would explain it as if you sew new buttons on your coat. The fabric and cut remain, the sewing machines go on, only different buttons are used,” added Helena Jiřincová. The effectiveness of the vaccine should not be jeopardized in the United Kingdom, where a new strain of SARS-CoV-2 is now spreading. “The mutant in Britain has 23 variations, some of them in the spike protein. So far, there are no fears that the vaccine or drugs will not work for it, but it is suspected that it is spreading faster in the population than other variants of the virus,” commented Plevka on current concerns of the British healthcare system.
Title image: Medical workers examine the rapid antigen tests for the coronavirus in Prague, Czech Republic, Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2020. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)