Denmark: More than 200 people diagnosed with mink-related coronavirus

Strain found to be less sensitive to human antibodies, potentially undermining efficacy of future vaccines, scientists say

Alessio Perrone
Friday 06 November 2020 16:57 GMT
Coronavirus in numbers

Denmark has found mink-related versions of coronavirus in 214 human cases since June, according to a report updated on 5 November.

Published on the website of the country’s State Serum Institute, which deals with infectious diseases, it said that the most worrying strain of the mutated coronavirus has so far only been found in 12 people and on five mink farms.

On Wednesday, Denmark announced plans to cull some 17 million mink in a bid to stop the spread of the mutated coronavirus, which public health experts say could put the efficacy of future coronavirus vaccines at risk.

Denmark has discovered several strains of mink-related coronavirus in some 207 different farms, with the disease spreading across the western peninsula of Jutland.

Lab tests and preliminary studies suggest that antibodies in people infected with Covid-19 were less effective in inhibiting one of the strains, which the report calls “cluster five”.

Of the 12 people infected with this mutated strain, 11 are from the North Jutland region in the country’s northwest.

Four of them are connected to three of the farms where the strain was found.

The institute called the finding “worrying” and said that further studies are under way. 

It added that the mutated virus is no more dangerous or contagious than other strains of the coronavirus, but that it could undermine the effectiveness of future vaccines.

Mutations making the virus less sensitive to antibodies have been a concern for “a long time” but remained theoretical until Monday 2 November, when Danish scientists saw the results of their studies.

They sent a risk assessment to the government on 3 November, warning that continued mink breeding could result in a substantial spread of the mutated virus and pose “a major risk to public health”.

“The best way to get rid of this variant is generally to slow down the spread of infection,” the report said.

In announcing the culling of millions of mink, the Danish prime minister, Mette Frederiksen, said on Wednesday that the situation was “very, very serious” and that it could jeopardise efforts to develop a vaccine.

“We have a great responsibility towards our own population, but with the mutation that has now been found, we have an even greater responsibility for the rest of the world as well,” she said.

According to government estimates, culling the country's 17 million mink could cost up to 5bn kroner (£610m).

Denmark’s national commissioner of police, Thorkild Fogde, said that “it should happen as soon as possible”.

Denmark is the world’s largest mink producer.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) is preparing a risk assessment on Denmark’s mink-related coronavirus cases.

Maria Van Kerkohove, an epidemiologist with the WHO, said on Friday that the organisation was also looking at biosecurity to prevent “spillover events” in countries with regional WHO offices.

Tens of thousands of mink have already been culled in Europe, including 100,000 in Spain after coronavirus cases were found at a farm in the Aragon region in July.

Thousands of mink have also been slaughtered in the Netherlands following similar outbreaks there.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in