Denmark will cull all 17 million minks raised on its territory due to a mutation of the coronavirus that “threatens the efficacy of a future vaccine,” said Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen.
Should we panic?
Denmark will slaughter all its farm-raised minks, about 17 million animals, due to the risk of spreading a new strain of coronavirus transmissible to humans that could threaten the efficacy of a future vaccine. According to explanations given by the Danish authorities, this mutation does not lead to more serious disease in humans, but to a reduction in the efficacy of human antibodies. The “mutant mink virus” does not react as strongly to antibodies as the normal virus. The antibodies still work, but not as effectively,” warned Kåre Mølbak, head of the Danish Infectious Disease Control Authority (SSI).
The worst-case scenario would be the start of a new global pandemic from Denmark.
“We have a great responsibility to our people, but with this change, we have an even greater responsibility to the rest of the world,” added Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen. “The worst-case scenario would be the beginning of a new global pandemic from Denmark,” agreed Kåre Mølbak. The government announced that the army, police, and National Guard will be mobilized to accelerate the slaughtering operations.
Twelve Cases of Human Mink Infection
In most cases, the mink is contaminated by humans, but some cases have been observed in the opposite direction. Twelve cases of transmission of the recently mutated virus have been reported in humans in Jutland, the western part of Denmark, according to reports in the Danish media. Although no studies on the nature of the mutant virus have been published, the Danish authorities have communicated their observations to the World Health Organization (WHO) and the European Center for Disease Control (ECDC).
A pre-publication on the BioRxiv website in September explained that once the coronavirus is transferred to mink, it undergoes accelerated mutations which can then be transferred to humans. The mutation of the peak protein called D614G, which was identified in the laboratory as more virulent, was therefore found on mink on several farms.
Ban mink farms?
Denmark is the world’s largest exporter of mink skins and the second-largest mink farmer after China. Between 15 and 17 million animals are raised in Denmark, but other cases of contamination of farms in other countries have also been reported. In July, for example, 100,000 mink were slaughtered in Spain and tens of thousands in the Netherlands.
Like ferrets, minks are not only perfect experimental models for viral respiratory diseases that can affect humans but also excellent containers for the Covid-19 virus.
Is Denmark Overreacting?
However, the general panic caused by this news is a bit exaggerated. “This story about a virus that weakens the vaccine is simply idiotic,” says François Balloux, professor of genetics at University College London, in his Twitter feed. “Such mutations, if they occur, will occur in humans if they are beneficial to the virus (once the vaccines are used) and certainly not come from mutations that originated in Minks. It is, therefore, a precautionary principle, similar to what is practiced, for example, in bird flu epidemics where large numbers of animals are destroyed.
This new mink COVID-19 mutation story, which is making the rounds on Twitter is highly problematic. There are elements of truth in it but the reporting is completely irresponsible.
— Prof Francois Balloux (@BallouxFrancois) November 4, 2020