The World Health Organization (WHO) has added another coronavirus strain “MU variant” to its “variants of interest” and this is all what you need to know about.
The mu variant, also known as B.1.621, was first detected in Colombia in January. It was added to the WHO’s monitoring radar because the organization says it contains mutations that could allow it to escape vaccine immunity.
According to World Health Organization a variant of interest has genetic changes considered likely to affect virus characteristics such as transmissibility, immune system evasion or disease severity.
In addition, the variant may be responsible for significant community transmission or multiple COVID-19 clusters in multiple countries — suggesting “an emerging risk to global public health.”
WHO has labelled ‘MU’ as “variant of concern.” WHO gives that designation to coronavirus strains when scientific evidence shows they may be associated with higher transmissibility, virulence or is about disease severity, or may reduce the effectiveness of therapy, testing or vaccines.
The WHO uses a naming system based on the Greek alphabet to designate variants of interest and concern — hence “mu,” the 12th letter in that system.
According to Dr. Charles Chiu, a prominent UCSF virologist whose lab conducts coronavirus genetic sequencing, said mu contains several mutations shared by variants of interest and concern that make it worrisome.
• E484K: This mutation is found in beta and gamma variants. It could make it so that “monoclonal treatments may not be as useful,” and may also allow the variant to “evade immunity from natural infection,” Chiu said.
• P681H: This mutation found in the alpha variant. It is thought to have partially increased the transmissibility of alpha, Chiu said.
• K417N: This mutation is found in the delta-plus variant. It could possibly increase the likelihood of antibody resistance, which could “make it more capable of evading vaccines and natural infection,” Chiu said.
Moreover, Chiu said that while the mu variant is spreading in multiple countries, it hasn’t yet shown a worldwide impact like the delta variant — so currently, there is no reason to worry.
Those who have been fully vaccinated for COVID-19 “can rest assured about that so far no variant has been shown to affect hospitalizations and deaths,” he said. “Vaccines are tremendously, and remain tremendously, effective in preventing severe hospitalizations and death.”
If the mu variant does have mutations that make it more resistant to antibodies, the importance of a booster vaccine dose would come into play. That’s why the CDC and the Biden administration are advising vaccine recipients to get an additional dose eight months after completing their inoculation, he said.
“If (the mu) variant continues to spread, we will be monitoring for it,With any new variant … it’s difficult to predict how it’s going to spread, or if it’s going to spread.”