Minks and Lockdowns

Denmark are culling millions of minks due to fears of a mutated SARS-CoV-2 strain. Here’s what one of the world’s leading viral geneticists, involved in SARS-CoV-2 research, Francois Balloux of University College London, has to say on the issue (copy-pasted from Twitter).

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. Mink causes new covid-mutation in humans – is Denmark in risk of becoming the new Wuhan?

Minks are highly susceptible to #SARSCoV2, as are most carnivores including dogs and domestic cats. There have been several massive outbreaks reported in mink farms in multiple countries, as the crowded conditions are perfect for rapid viral spread. Coronavirus rips through Dutch mink farms, triggering culls to prevent human infections

My colleague and close collaborator @LucyvanDorp has previously identified #SARSCoV2 mutations occurring repeatedly in minks, which may be involved in increased transmission in carnivore hosts. Those include one in the Spike protein.

#SARSCoV2 mutations acquired in minks are not concerning. We already knew that #SARSCoV2 can transmit from minks to humans. Though, this should be of no concern in terms of the evolution of the transmissibility of the virus. Jumping back and forth: anthropozoonotic and zoonotic transmission of SARS-CoV-2 on mink farms

The population of #SARSCoV2 is so large that any mutation viable to the virus has arisen many times by now. There is no evidence that any such mutation affects transmissibility in humans (with the possible, questionable exception of D614G). No evidence for increased transmissibility from recurrent mutations in SARS-CoV-2

There are thousands of mutations in #SARSCoV2 arising constantly. The fact that a few have been observed in minks will not change the strains in circulation in humans. If they were beneficial for the virus to infect its human host, they would be at high frequency already.

The ‘vaccine escape’ scare story is just idiotic. Vaccine-escape mutations may (or not) arise in humans in the future, if they are advantageous to the virus for (once vaccines will be deployed). They definitely won’t be fuelled by mutations having emerged in minks.

This is a typical example of all that is wrong with science and its communication in the #COVID19 era. An interesting observation gets misunderstood and blown out of proportion and ends up as a silly and confusing story fuelling further fear and confusion in the public.

It would be really helpful if scientists, journalists and politicians all tried to be a bit more careful and responsible in the future. Such hysterical #COVID19 pseudo-science is of benefit to no one.


Jay Bhattacharya, whose surname seems to take on a different spoken form every time I hear it, is one of the lead signatories to the Great Barrington Declaration. Mark Lipsitch is one of the lead signatories to the respondent and opposing John Snow Memorandum. Both are epidemiologists but with different takes on Covid pandemic response. They debate their differences in this hour long debate, adjudicated by Dr Howard Bauchner, Editor in Chief of the Journal of the American Medical Association. After almost a year of discussion lockdown, public and civil debate is appearing more acceptable.


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