While the original Covid-19 variant is not as powerful nowadays due to the vaccine, new variants were discovered and many of them are extremely problematic. The COVID-19 Delta and COVID-19 Mu variants in particular seem to be the ones that we need to focus on right now, as they are widely spread all over the world, and they have many casualties already.
What is the Mu variant?
This is a Coronavirus variant that was first identified in Colombia back in January 2021. Since then, it caused many isolated outbreaks in the US, Europe and South American. The World Health Organization sees the Mu variant as a variant of interest. The reason is that it makes treatments and vaccines in particular less efficient, although studies are still ongoing.
At the time of this writing, the Mu variant accounts for less than 1% of the global Covid cases, but the problem is that it’s on the rise. And in Colombia it’s responsible for around 39% of the total Covid cases. While the Delta variant is highly contagious, the Mu variant is also right up there, and it’s found in dozens of countries all over the world.
What makes the Mu variant different?
The Mu variant has 8 different mutations in the spike protein. Most of them are present in other concerning variants like Alpha, Delta, Gamma and Beta. Some of the mutations like N501Y or the E484K are helping other variants evade antibodies even if you had the vaccine. That becomes a problems, since even if you had the vaccine, you can still end up with Covid due to this particular issue.
Another thing to note about the Mu variant is that it has novel mutations. These were not seen in other variants, so researchers are still trying to figure out and narrow down the overall effects of this variant in particular. For example, some mutations happening at the 346 position are known to disrupt the antibody interaction with the spike protein. Due to that, the virus can escape quicker and without any issues.
Tests are estimating that the Mu variant is 2x more transmissible when compared to the original. Covid strain. The immunity people have from a previous infection is also 37% less efficient against this variant when compared to the original strain. So yes, the strain is weakening your protection even if you already had the vaccine shot. The thing to consider is that this variant is the most vaccine resistant of all currently recognized variants, so it’s one of the most important aspects to keep in mind.
Is the Mu variant concerning?
This variant has spread over 40 countries at the time of this writing, and it’s present in 49 of the United States as well. It might not be an immediate threat since other variants are more widely spread, but this is a newer variant and it did spread quite a bit. The large amount of mutations makes it very dangerous, since it can actively surpass the immune defense and lead to immediate infection. The fact that there’s no way to prevent its spread or provide immediate protection, so that’s definitely a thing to consider at this particular time.
The Mu variant is also found in Europe. It’s seen, sporadically for now, in countries like the UK, Netherlands, Spain, Portugal, Luxembourg, Italy, Ireland, Finland, France, Belgium, Denmark, Austria and a few others. Thankfully, at least for the time being, this is just a sporadic presence, and the presence hasn’t increased that much since it was encountered throughout Europe.
This Mu variant has 21 mutations, which include 9 amino acid mutations. All of these can be found in the spike protein of the virus. These mutations are not new, with some changes being rather inconsequential. That being said, there are some that alter properties in order to make the viruses more powerful and virulent.
How resistant is the Mu variant against the vaccine?
According to a risk assessment released by Public Health England states that the variant is as resistant as the Beta variant to immunity acquired from vaccination, if not more than that. While studies are ongoing, it’s clear that the Mu variant has some of the best immune resistance, so even if you had any vaccine, you are not safe against it. This is not more transmissible when compared to the Delta variant, however its resistance to immunity acquired from vaccines is definitely concerning and quite the problem at this particular time.
Based on an evolutionary theory, the virus might become more transmissible overtime, but less severe. This can be prevalent in the case other viruses, but it’s very challenging and hard to know how everything will evolve and come together. For the time being, the Mu variant is a variant of interest. What that means is that the WHO is closely monitoring it, but it’s not a variant that has a wide spread when compared to others. If it does become a variant of concern, that’s when we need to be worried.
It’s important to note that regardless of the Covid variant, vaccines will not protect us forever. They are still more efficient when compared to not taking any action. That being said, vaccines might be adapted to these ever-emerging variants, and we will have to take a vaccine shot more often than we expect. Still, it’s better to have the vaccine shots done, as you are still getting more protection and efficiency.
The Mu variant might be newer, but it’s present in upwards of 40 countries and most US states. For now, it seems to be under control and not as widely spread as the Delta variant, but its power and presence is still concerning. That’s why we must do everything in our power to protect ourselves from this variant, and the WHO is already monitoring its growth and presence. For the time being, vaccines are protecting against symptomatic infections and severe disease, so you are getting some protection. Still, the Mu variant is concerning, and it’s important to keep an eye on it as it progresses!