The Danish government will slaughter millions of mink at more than 1,000 farms, citing concerns that a mutation in the novel coronavirus that has infected them could possibly interfere with the effectiveness of a vaccine.
Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen made the announcement at a news conference on Wednesday. There are 15 million or more mink in Denmark, which is one of the world’s major exporters of mink furs. She said the armed forces would be involved in the culling of the animals.
At the news conference, according to Danish news reports, Kare Molbak, the head of the Danish Serum Institute, warned that some coronavirus mutations could impede the efficacy of future vaccines for humans.
The government has notified the World Health Organization about the mutation, which shows a weak reaction to antibodies. Twelve people in Jutland are known to have virus with the mutation too, the W.H.O. said.
Without published reports on the nature of the mutation or how the virus variant was tested, research scientists outside Denmark who study the virus were left somewhat in the dark. Stanley Perlman, a microbiologist at the University of Iowa and a specialist on the novel coronavirus, said he could not evaluate the Danish statements without more information.
On Thursday, Carl T. Bergstrom, an evolutionary biologist and professor at the University of Washington in Seattle, said that he was not terribly concerned. “Even if the Denmark strain had a substantial selective advantage, it is vanishingly rare right now and will stay that way for the for seeable future,” he wrote. “Ordinary Covid is just far too prevalent.”
In September, Dutch scientists reported in a paper that has not yet been peer-reviewed that the virus was jumping between mink and humans. In Denmark, the government described a version of the virus that migrated from mink to humans.
The coronavirus mutates slowly but regularly, and a different variant of the virus would not, in itself, be cause for concern, experts have said.
Researchers have previously studied one mutation labeled D614G in the spike protein of the virus that may increase transmission. They concluded that there is no evidence so far that this particular mutation increases virulence or would affect the workings of a vaccine.
Denmark has already begun killing all mink at 400 farms that were either infected, or close enough to infected farms, to cause concern. The killing of all mink will wipe out the industry, perhaps for years.
Mink are in the weasel family, along with ferrets, which are easily infected with the coronavirus. But while ferrets appear to suffer mild symptoms, mink react more like humans.
Many conservation scientists have become concerned about the spread of the virus to animal populations, like chimpanzees, which are believed to be susceptible, although cases have not been identified yet.