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The coronavirus mutates more slowly than the flu — which means a vaccine will likely be effective long-term

20:40, Sunday, 29 March, 2020
The coronavirus mutates more slowly than the flu — which means a vaccine will likely be effective long-term

A glimmer of hope on the coronavirus front: Experts who have been tracking the virus' spread have concluded that it mutates at a slower rate than other respiratory viruses like the flu.

This slow mutation rate has two implications — both positive. It means the virus (whose official name is SARS-CoV-2) is stable in its current form and therefore unlikely to get even more dangerous as it continues to spread. That also means a vaccine could be effective in the long run; it'd act more like a measles or chickenpox vaccine than a seasonal flu shot.

Peter Thielen, a molecular geneticist at Johns Hopkins University, told The Washington Post that an analysis of 1,000 samples of the new coronavirus revealed only four to 10 genetic differences between the strains that had infected people in the US and the original virus that spread in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

"At this point, the mutation rate of the virus would suggest that the vaccine developed for SARS-CoV-2 would be a single vaccine, rather than a new vaccine every year like the flu vaccine," Thielen said.

The coronavirus is more stable than the flu
     All viruses mutate over time. As they replicate, minute errors are constantly introduced into the virus' genetic code, and those then spread through a virus' population. Such mutations break up a virus into different strains, but tend to not affect how contagious the virus is or how it spreads. The genetic errors do, however, help scientists track how a virus moves through the human population — they're like genetic breadcrumbs.

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