Anthony Fauci

Dr. Fauci Says It Appears COVID Strain From Danish Mink Farms Won't Be a Problem for Vaccines

Graeme Jennings | AFP | Getty Images
  • "Whenever you see something like that, you need to pay attention to it. You certainly can't just blow it off," Fauci said on Thursday, referring to Denmark's outbreak of COVID in mink farms.
  • "At first cut, it doesn't look like something that is going to be really a big problem for the vaccines that are currently being used to reduce an immune response."
  • It is hoped a vaccine could help bring an end to the coronavirus pandemic that has claimed over 1.29 million lives worldwide.

LONDON — America's leading expert on infectious disease said a mutated version of the coronavirus found in Denmark's mink farms does not appear to have derailed hopes for a vaccine.

The Danish government ordered a mass cull of all 15 million minks in farms nationwide earlier this month, shortly after it was discovered a new coronavirus strain had passed from the animals to humans.

The WHO has since launched a review of biosecurity measures in mink farms across the globe to prevent further spillover events.

The United Nations health agency said it is a "long, long way" from deciding on whether the mutation may have any implications for diagnostics or vaccines and has urged for people not to jump to any conclusions.

Six countries have reported COVID outbreaks among mink farms since the coronavirus pandemic began, namely: Denmark, the Netherlands, Sweden, Spain, Italy, and the U.S.

Greece has also found COVID-19 in two mink farms in the north of the country, Reuters reported on Friday, citing an unnamed agriculture ministry official.

"Whenever you see something like that, you need to pay attention to it. You certainly can't just blow it off," Fauci said on Thursday, referring to Denmark's outbreak of COVID in mink farms.

Speaking during a webinar hosted by think tank Chatham House, Fauci added: "You have got to look at it, you have got to take a look at what it means, what the mutation has to do with various aspects of the molecules that are responsible for the binding of antibodies."

The White House coronavirus advisor, who has worked as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases for 36 years, said the institute's vaccine research center had taken "a first look" at the discovery of a new coronavirus strain on Danish mink farms.

Minks are seen at a farm in Gjol, northern Denmark on October 9, 2020.
HENNING BAGGER | Ritzau Scanpix | AFP via Getty Images
Minks are seen at a farm in Gjol, northern Denmark on October 9, 2020.

"It does not appear, at this point, that that mutation that's been identified in the minks is going to have an impact on vaccines and affect a vaccine-induced response," Fauci said.

"It might have an impact on certain monoclonal antibodies that are developed against the virus, we don't know that yet. But, at first cut, it doesn't look like something that is going to be really a big problem for the vaccines that are currently being used to reduce an immune response."

It is hoped a vaccine could help bring an end to the coronavirus pandemic that has claimed over 1.29 million lives worldwide.

Political outcry

Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said in a press conference on Nov. 4 that health authorities had discovered virus strains in humans and in mink that showed decreased sensitivity against antibodies, potentially lowering the effectiveness of future vaccines.

Frederiksen described the situation as "very, very serious," warning the mutated virus could have "devastating consequences" worldwide.

The prime minister swiftly ordered a cull of the mink population in Denmark, one of the world's main mink fur exporters. The move has led to political outcry, however, after Frederiksen conceded on Tuesday that there was no legal basis to do so.

The Danish government has said it will now bring forward legislation to support its order.

Denmark's Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen in Marienborg in Kongens Lyngby, north of Copenhagen, Denmark, in November 2020.
LISELOTTE SABROE | AFP | Getty Images
Denmark's Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen in Marienborg in Kongens Lyngby, north of Copenhagen, Denmark, in November 2020.

"What Denmark has done is a precautionary measure, they don't understand completely what the impact might be and so they've decided to sacrifice the minks, which is an acceptable precautionary measure," Dr. David Heymann, who led the WHO's infectious disease unit during the SARS epidemic in 2002-2003, said during the same online event.

"I think what has been very difficult for many people to understand though is that this virus is in every country and it is mutating differently in every country," he continued. "And so, in order for this virus from the minks to be able to replace (the) virus in other countries and impact on vaccines, it would have to be more fit than the other viruses that are around now and spread easier, more rapidly and replace those viruses in other countries."

"This never was just one outbreak, it is a whole series of outbreaks in different countries, with mutations occurring at different rates and different manners," Heymann said.

"Unfortunately, we are all building the ship at the same time and don't know what will work and what won't work."

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