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Coronavirus Mutations Not As Concerning As Some Research Suggests

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
An undated artist rendering of the coronavirus.

While the death toll for coronavirus has been steadily rising in places such as New York City, there’s already some panic among residents. But new research could be causing even more concern.

Examples include a study from Los Alamos National Laboratory that suggests a new strain of coronavirus could be more deadly and transmissible.

Coronavirus Mutations Not As Concerning As Some Research Suggests
Listen to this story by Shalina Chatlani.

In the 33-page paper, researchers wrote of the new strain that “the mutation Spike D614G is of urgent concern; it began spreading in Europe in early February, and when introduced to new regions it rapidly becomes the dominant form.”

But genomic epidemiologist Kristian Andersen of Scripps Research studies genetics and viruses, and he said there is really no need to panic.

“Viruses mutate, so it doesn’t really mean anything. It’s part of the viral life cycle like humans making babies. Babies are mutants of the parents and the same is true of viruses, the baby viruses may have a mutation or two of the cell they came from,” Andersen said.

And when it comes to studies suggesting that Sars-CoV-2 is becoming more contagious and dangerous, Andersen said, “I highly doubt that’s true. There's actually no data to suggest that that is true. There is no data to suggest that we have a virus that is more deadly, less deadly, for that matter.”

In fact, a debate has erupted among epidemiologists and genetics experts on Twitter over conclusions on the effects of mutations.

Above is a May 5, 2020 tweet from Brian Wasik, Research Associate at Cornell University.

Andersen said there is some evidence suggesting a mutation of the virus has spread from Europe to the United States. But the difference is likely negligible. And the key point is that the virus is already transmissible and clearly deadly.

“This is not all of a sudden a new deadly form of the virus … Nothing is fundamentally different about the virus. The virus as it was was really transmissible already,” he said.

And when it comes to a vaccine, Andersen said the mutations don’t make much of a difference either. The hard part, he said, is dealing with this outbreak and finding a vaccine that works in the first place. Adjustments can happen later, he said.