GENEVA — The new Covid-19 variant of concern, Mu, has shown signs of possible resistance to vaccines.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has said it is closely monitoring the variant.
In its weekly epidemiological update, published on Aug. 31, the WHO warned the variant was becoming increasingly prevalent in Colombia and Ecuador in South America.
“The Eastern Mediterranean and Western Pacific Regions reported an increase in the number of weekly deaths, 9 percent, and 16 percent respectively, while the South-East Asia Region reported the largest decrease of 20 percent,” states the update.
“SARS-CoV-2 Variants of Concern (VOCs) Alpha, Beta, Gamma, and Delta which includes updates on the geographic distribution of these VOCs as well as a description of a newly classified Variant of Interest (VOI), Mu,” the update states.
As per WHO, the Mu variant (also known as B.1.621) “has a constellation of mutations that indicate potential properties of immune escape.” Preliminary data suggests it may evade immune defenses similarly to the Beta variant first discovered in South Africa.
Mu was first identified in Colombia in January 2021, and since then, there have been “sporadic reports” of cases and outbreaks in South America and Europe, the WHO said.
“The @WHO is monitoring a new coronavirus variant called ‘mu’. It has mutations that have the “potential to evade immunity” by a previous infection or vaccination, the WHO said. #MuVariant was first identified in Colombia and now in at least 39 countries,” said Eric Feigl-Ding, an epidemiologist. He formerly was associated with Harvard University.
While the global prevalence of Mu among sequenced Covid-19 cases is below 0.1 percent, its prevalence has “consistently increased” in Colombia and Ecuador, where it is now responsible for around 39 percent and 13 percent of infections, respectively.
The agency said that reports on the variant’s prevalence should be “interpreted with due consideration” given the low sequencing capacity of most countries.
Mu is the fifth variant of interest to be monitored by the WHO since March.
It has a number of mutations that suggest it could be more resistant to vaccines, the health agency warned, but stressed that further research would be needed to confirm this.
Preliminary data show reduced effectiveness of vaccines “similar to that seen for the Beta variant.”
The WHO official said they would be monitoring “the epidemiology of the Mu variant in South America, particularly with the co-circulation of the Delta variant…for changes.”
As of Aug. 29, over 4,500 sequences (3,794 B.1.621 sequences and 856 B.1.621.1 sequences), genome sequences, analyzed samples of the virus taken from patients, have been designated as Mu in the past four weeks.
The sequences are used to track how it moves through the population on an open-source genome repository known as GISAID.
Although this figure will be affected by both sequencing capacity, surveillance, and the total number of cases in an area.
(With inputs from ANI)
Edited by Amrita Das and Pallavi Mehra
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