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Mutated COVID-19 is spreading in the Czech Republic: What does that mean?

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The mutated form of COVID-19 was detected in the UK and alarmed citizens of the affected countries. The Czech National Reference Laboratory reported that they found this form of COVID-19 in Czech patients back at the beginning of fall, but there is no reason to panic.

The new form of the virus underwent around 23 mutations with the most significant ones happening in the spike protein, where the H69/V70 deletion occurred, according to the report by COVID-19 Genomics UK Consortium. It could explain why several Czech patients were re-infected with COVID-19 despite the reports that re-infection is unlikely. Furthermore, it can potentially explain why the virus is spreading quicker.

“New variants of coronavirus are appearing independently of each other in several places in the Czech Republic, especially in Prague and the Central Bohemian Region,” said Helena Jiřincová, head of the National Reference Laboratory for Influenza and Non-Influenza Respiratory Viral Diseases, reports.

While the mutation of COVID-19 might sound threatening to you, in fact, it is a normal occurrence. All viruses undergo a complicated process of mutation, but in most cases, the formula changes very slightly. The COVID-19 has already mutated multiple times – according to BBC, it does so as many as two times per month.

Potentially, alterations to spike protein might be serious, because the current vaccines by Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, and AstraZeneca all code for the spike protein, teaching the immune system to produce antibodies when exposed to a large amount of the virus according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Yet, in this particular case, scientists encourage citizens not to worry.

“The detected mutation means a small change in the spike protein and is unlikely to affect the effectiveness of the vaccine,” virologist Pavel Plevka told Práva, reports. This conclusion was supported by British and Canadian scientists, as well.

The alterations made the virus spread easier – early reports suggest that the new form can be around 70% more contagious. However, the lethality rate did not increase. The vaccines are still expected to work as originally predicted because they teach the immune system to attack the spike in more than one place. Generally, it takes much more than a few mutations to make such significant changes to a protein that the vaccines become ineffective. And even if that happens, the vaccine manufacturers are prepared.

“That’s why we can be happy about how amazing the technology used by the vaccine manufacturers is. These are mRNAs (messenger RNAs) of the vaccine, and they have the advantage to easily change the matrix used to make the protein. That is, the manufacturer can respond quickly to other variants of the virus, ” said Helena Jiřincová.

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