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G614 strain: A mutated challenge for the vaccines

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Its been a year when the first case of COVID-19 was reported in China and ever since more than a million people have lost their life battle to the deadly virus. With no vaccine registered yet, a new scientific breakthrough has brought a ray of hope in the fight against COVID-19. Scientists have raised the possibility of the future of the COVID-19 pandemic on the basis of how the virus is subjected to evolution. The mutated virus has become more transmissible as it crossed borders from East Asia to Europe.

Bette Korber, computational biologist and HIV infection expert and his team published a paper regarding this matter but unfortunately the scientific community wasn’t convinced enough to ponder on the topic. It was only when virologist Ralph Baric of University of North Carolina decided to continue the research with experiments on cells and hamsters. Ralph and Yoshihiro Kawaoka at the University of North Carolina published their experimental findings in Science.

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From left to right: Bette Korber, Ralph Baric and Yoshihiro Kawaoka

Scientists have so far found only one transmissible strain known as G614 which is deadlier than its ancestral strain D614. The probability of the deadlier strain surviving is narrowed down as it deems the strain unfit for evolution; the reason being, the viruses die within their hosts. In addition to this, the structural configuration of the spike proteins of the G strain raises the vulnerability factor as they can be easily wiped out by vaccines induced by the antibodies. The theory still holds practicality even though the vaccines have been developed to work against the D strain.

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Similarly, the mutated in the G strain is possibly the only cause why it got into its most explosive form in Europe and the USA. The D strain is still present but accounts for only 2% of the total cases confirmed worldwide. But China’s Draconian lockdown policies was worthy enough to control the G strain from exploding in China, the epi-center of COVID-19. Amidst all these breakthroughs, scientists are still afraid of the fact that the G strain will still find a way to evolve resistance against vaccines. The virus will be subjected to change under pressure once a community builds up immunity. With the number of individuals building up immunity against the virus, only the viruses best adapting the antibodies will be favoured.

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This transmission can be achieved by shifting the host to another species such as in the case of Denmark’s minks. The virus could very well jump to any of the species of the bats who are most likely the source of SARS-CoV-2. Once the transmission occurs, the fear of infection will lurk around. This is because if the virus happens to change its antigenic structure, the human antibodies will fail to recognise it. Like every cloud has a silver lining, this gravity of the hypothesis can still be suppressed if the virus becomes just another form of common cold. In this case, the virus will join the class of four coronaviruses already present among humans- all of which cause cold. All the viruses once started as deadly pandemics, but in the present scenario are just the forms of common cold.

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