Health experts say the new coronavirus is mutating at a slower rate than several other respiratory viruses, particularly the the flu.
The virus has already mutated close to 10 times, leading many to fear that an even deadlier strain is around the corner.
However, scientists say that the mutations don’t vary much from the virus that originated in Wuhan, China, nor are they more severe.
This means that once a vaccine is readily available, it would provide protection against both the original virus and mutations – and for several years.
The novel coronavirus (pictured) is an RNA virus, like the flu, which means it’s prone to mutating unlike DNA viruses such as herpes
But the virus is mutating slowly, meaning strains that have hit Europe and the US are very similar the original virus that originated in Wuhan, China. Pictured: Medics intubate a gravely ill patient with COVID-19 symptoms at his home in Yonkers, New York, April 6
But the virus is mutating slowly, meaning strains that have hit Europe and the US are very similar the original virus that originated in Wuhan, China. Pictured: A pharmacy technologist prepares a coronavirus vaccine candidate for testing in Kansas City, Missouri, April 8
The new virus – also known as SARS-CoV-2 – is an RNA virus, which means it has RNA as its genetic material.
These viruses enter the cells through a receptor found on the surface, and then make hundreds of copies of themselves that can infect cells throughout the body.
RNA viruses, such as the flu, often mutate, unlike DNA viruses, which include herpes and chickenpox.
‘In the world of RNA viruses, change is the norm,’ Dr Mark Schleiss, a professor in the division of pediatric infectious diseases and immunology at the University of Minnesota Medical School, told Healthline.
The flu, for example, mutates every year, which is why researchers have to develop vaccines to protect us against the most prevalent strains.
And the novel coronavirus has mutated. Currently, at least eight strains are making their way around the world.
However, the virus has mutated very slowly, and its mutations are very similar to the original virus.
This means that the mutations that struck Europe and the US are not different from the virus that first appeared in Wuhan, nor are they more infectious or more fatal.
‘The sequences of the original isolates from China are very close to those in viruses circulating in the US and the rest of the world,’ Dr John Rose, a senior research scientist in the department of pathology at Yale Medicine, told Healthline.
This is very good news for vaccine trials that are underway in the US and in several countries across the globe.
Scheliss says that for the last 45 years, the MMR vaccine has been very effective in protecting against measles, mumps and rubella.
That’s because those three viruses are RNA viruses and have hardly mutated from when the first immunization was developed.
Which is why Scheliss told Healthline he believes that once a COVID-19 vaccine is widely available, it will protect against most mutations.
Health experts also hope that over the next few years we’ll have what is known as ‘herd immunity’.
This occurs when the vast majority of a community – between 80 and 95 percent – becomes immune so that, if a disease is introduced, it is unable to spread.
Therefore, those who are unable to be vaccinated, including the ill, very young and very old, are protected.
And, even if antibodies against the virus wear off over the next few decade, experts say our bodies will still remember how to fight the infection.