The variant expanded from Spain through tourists and is the most present in the second wave. But researchers rule out that it affects the developments in process.
The SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus that causes covid-19 has hundreds of mutations, although one of the most currently present in the second wave that Europe is experiencing occurred first in Spain, concludes a study by Spanish and Swiss scientists made public in the last hours. However, the main author of the study clarifies that it will not have any negative impact on the development of a vaccine.
“We think that the mutation will not affect the efficacy of the vaccine,” said scientist Emma Hodcroft from the Swiss University of Basel, an institution that has led the research in collaboration with the Federal Polytechnic School of Zurich and the Spanish consortium SegCovid-Spain, headed by the Higher Center for Scientific Research (CSIC).
As he explained, the vaccine targets specific parts of the virus that they are not affected by the mutation.
Dozens of pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies are in various stages of research and development of vaccine candidates, with a dozen of them being massively tested to determine their efficacy and level of safety.
The genetic change suffered by the new variant of the coronavirus has not increased neither its ability to spread nor its severity.
“It is very important to clarify that there is no evidence that the mutation is the cause of the spread of this variant and rather we think it has to do with travel,” Hodcroft said in a virtual press conference.
“The cases increased again in Spain much earlier than in most European countries, with the exception of Belgium, and this coincides with the time when travel resumed,” he added.
The fact that few countries made negative recent test results a condition for travel and that people were trusted to voluntarily quarantine may have been the biggest weaknesses of the prevention measures that were being adopted then.
The authors of the study think that the Spanish variant is not responsible for the second wave of the pandemic that Europe suffers, but the fact that governments have taken belated measures as autumn approaches, a season that lends itself to the transmission of viruses .
“People gather with others indoors, close their doors, reduce ventilation and turn on heaters, all of which allow the virus to travel more easily in the air“Hodcroft explained.
In the genetic sequences that scientists are extracting from coronavirus tests throughout Europe, the variant that appeared in Spain (probably between the end of May and the beginning of June) represents 29% of the total, while the second most expanded appears in 22 % of cases and is the one that circulates essentially in France and Belgium.
However, it is normal for viruses to mutate frequently and, in the case of SARS-CoV-2, which causes covid-19, this occurs about twice a month.
“This is perfectly normal, there is nothing to be alarmed about. In fact, SARS-CoV-2 is a very stable virus. What we want to convey is that although there are mutations, this does not change the structure of the virus or how it works, “Hodcroft stressed.
According to what scientists know, Valencia (Spain) would have been the first place where the variant circulated among the local population and there were initial cases among agricultural workers in the Aragon region.
Hodcroft considered that the spread of the new variant of the coronavirus in the latter group shows that when the most vulnerable are not protected, the entire society ends up being vulnerable.
“This is not the first study to reveal that there were outbreaks among immigrant workers and among those living in crowded conditions,” he said.