National Institute for Allergies and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci testifies during a hearing for the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee to investigate Covid-19 September 23, 2020.
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America's leading infectious disease expert said a mutated version of the coronavirus found in Denmark's mink farms doesn't seem to have derailed hopes for a vaccine.
The Danish government ordered a mass killing of all 15 million minks on farms earlier this month, shortly after it was discovered that a new strain of coronavirus had passed from animals to humans.
The World Health Organization has since launched a review of biosecurity measures in mink farms around the world to prevent further spillover events.
The United Nations agency said it was a "long, long road" from deciding whether the mutation could affect diagnostics or vaccines, and urged people not to draw any conclusions.
At least six countries have reported Covid outbreaks in mink farms since the coronavirus pandemic began: Denmark, the Netherlands, Sweden, Spain, Italy and the United States.
Greece has also found Covid-19 in two mink farms in the north of the country, Reuters reported on Friday, citing an unnamed official from the Ministry of Agriculture.
"Whenever you see something like this, you have to be careful. You certainly can't just call it off," Fauci said on Thursday, referring to Denmark's Covid outbreak in mink farms.
Mink are seen on a farm in Gjol, Northern Denmark on October 9, 2020.
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During a webinar by the Chatham House think tank, Fauci added, "You have to look at it, you have to see what it means, what mutation has to do with different aspects of the molecules responsible for binding antibodies."
The White House coronavirus advisor, who has served as director of the National Institute for Allergies and Infectious Diseases for 36 years, said the institute's vaccine research center had "a first look" at the discovery of a new strain of coronavirus in Danish mink farms .
"At this point in time, it does not appear that this mutation identified in the mink has any effect on vaccines and affects a vaccine-induced response," said Fauci.
"It could affect certain monoclonal antibodies that are being developed against the virus. We don't know yet. But at first glance, it doesn't look like something that will really be a big problem for the vaccines." are currently used to reduce an immune response. "
It is hoped that a vaccine can help end the coronavirus pandemic that has killed over 1.29 million people worldwide.
Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said in a press conference on November 4 that health authorities had discovered strains of virus in humans and mink that showed lower sensitivity to antibodies, which may affect the effectiveness of future vaccines.
Frederiksen described the situation as "very, very serious" and warned that the mutated virus could have "devastating consequences" worldwide.
The prime minister quickly ordered a culling of the mink population in Denmark, one of the world's largest exporters of mink fur. The move, however, sparked political outcry after Frederiksen admitted Tuesday that there was no legal basis for it.
The Danish government has announced that it will now submit laws to support its order.
Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen in Marienborg in Kongens Lyngby north of Copenhagen, Denmark in November 2020.
LISELOTTE SABROE | AFP | Getty Images
'What Denmark has done is a precaution, they do not fully understand the impact this could have and so they decided to sacrifice the minks which is an acceptable precaution,' said Dr David Heymann, who headed the WHO contagious disease unit during the SARS epidemic in 2002-2003, said during the same online event.
"I think what was very difficult for many people to understand is that this virus occurs in every country and mutates differently in every country," he continued. "In order for this mink virus to replace the virus in other countries and affect vaccines, it needs to be better suited than the other viruses out there now, and more easily and quickly to spread and replace these viruses in other countries. "
"This was never just one outbreak, it's been a whole series of outbreaks in different countries, with mutations occurring at different rates and in different ways," said Heymann.
"Unfortunately we are all building the ship at the same time and we don't know what will work and what will not."