The coronavirus mutates more slowly than the flu — which means a vaccine will likely be effective long-term

novel coronavirus under a microscope

Scientists around the world are racing to develop a vaccine for the new coronavirus, which has infected more than 467,000 people.
All viruses, including this one, mutate over time. As they replicate, minute errors are introduced into their genetic codes.
For some viruses, like the flu, these errors collect more quickly over time and can change how the virus behaves — necessitating a new vaccine every year.
The new coronavirus, however, seems to mutate slowly, experts say. This means its vaccine would likely be effective long-term, much like a measles vaccine.
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A glimmer of hope on the coronavirus front: Experts who have been tracking the virus’ spread have concluded that it mutates at a slower rate than other respiratory viruses like the flu.

This slow mutation rate has two implications — both positive. It means the virus (whose official name is SARS-CoV-2) is stable in its current form, and therefore unlikely to get even more dangerous as it continues to spread. That also means that a vaccine could be effective in the long-run; it’d act more like a measles or chickenpox vaccine than a seasonal flu shot.

Peter Thielen, a molecular geneticist at Johns Hopkins University, told The Washington Post that an analysis of 1,000 different samples of the new coronavirus revealed only four to 10 genetic differences between the strains that have infected people in the US and the original virus that spread in Wuhan.

“At this point, the mutation rate of the virus would suggest that the vaccine developed for SARS-CoV-2 would be a single vaccine, rather than a new vaccine every year like the flu vaccine,” Thielen said.

The coronavirus is more stable than the flu

All viruses mutate over time. As they replicate, minute errors are constantly introduced into the virus’ genetic code, and those then spread through a virus’ population. Such mutations break up a virus into different strains, but tend to not impact how contagious the virus is or how it spreads. The genetic errors do, however, help scientists track how a virus moves through the human population — they’re like genetic breadcrumbs.

SARS-CoV-2 does not seem to mutate much. Subtle changes in its genome have occurred over time, but the virus appears the same everywhere it has popped up. Each strain is nearly identical.

Andrew Rambaut, a molecular evolutionary biologist at the University of Edinburgh, told Science that SARS-CoV-2 accumulates an average of about one to two mutations per month.

“It’s about two to four times slower than the flu,” he said.

Trevor Bedford, a scientist at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, tweeted that the flu virus, by contrast, “mutates about once every 10 days across its genome.”

Most of those mutations are inconsequential, he wrote on Twitter, but occasionally one will appear that undermines people’s existing immunity to the flu. That’s why we have to get a new flu shot every year, and also why flu vaccines aren’t always 100% effective.

But coronaviruses, on the whole, are “somewhat less prone …read more

Source:: Business Insider


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