As of Sunday, China reported more than 10 confirmed cases of variant strains of COVID-19. Experts said that compared with other countries, China's strict epidemic prevention and control policies have effectively curbed the spread of mutated strains of the virus within the country and the mutant strains have not been found to have a significant effect on the protection rate of the COVID-19 vaccines made in China.
East China's Shandong Province recently detected a mutant strain of COVID-19 with a highly similar genetic sequence to the virus reported in South Africa while examining samples from an asymptomatic infection case entering from Philippines, the Shandong Health Commission announced on Sunday. With this case, China has reported more than 10 confirmed cases of the variant strains, according to the Health Times.
"As a RNA virus, COVID-19 is a microorganism with a relatively simple structure, so its replication speed is very fast and the correction mechanism of the virus is poor, which is easy to cause virus mutation," a professor surnamed Wang from the Department of Immunology at Peking University told the Global Times.
Wang noted that currently, all the mutated strains reported in China were identified in imported cases and local mutated strains have not been found, which is attributed to China's strict epidemic prevention and control measures.
"Although only a few of the mutated strains have had some impact on the transmission rate and mortality of COVID-19, we need to be clear that the greater the number of people infected, the greater likelihood that the virus will continue to mutate," Wang added.
Regarding the concern of the protection rate of the vaccine on mutated viruses, "no mutated strains of the novel coronavirus have been found to have a significant impact on the protection rate of the COVID-19 vaccine made in China," said Wang Junzhi, a scholar and a member of the national vaccine research and development specialist group, during a State Council press conference on the joint prevention and control mechanism on March 15.
Wang Junzhi also pointed out that long term transmission of the virus may cause the accumulation of multiple mutations and this will, to a certain extent, affect the protective power of the vaccine.
The current global spread of mutated strains of COVID-19 has become a problem that cannot be ignored. Maria Van Kerkhove, technical lead on the COVID-19 pandemic of the World Health Organization (WHO), told reporters during a previous press briefing that most regions in the world are seeing an increase in COVID-19 cases as variants spread. The WHO expects the novel coronavirus will continue to evolve with more variations in the future.
Given that individual imported cases emerge from time to time, and mutations of the coronavirus spread worldwide, relevant departments should strictly enforce detection and monitoring measures and promote vaccination, Yang Zhanqiu, Deputy Director of the Pathogen Biology Department at Wuhan University, told the Global Times.
"The current mutation has not yet had a substantial impact on the epidemic control situation in China. However, it deserves further attention and monitoring and requires us to develop possible contingency plans," Wang added.