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VERIFY: Yes, it's normal for viruses to mutate

There's new variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus hitting South Africa and the United Kingdom. Our Verify experts says its normal for a virus to mutate over time

WASHINGTON — QUESTION:

Is it normal for a virus to a mutate?

ANSWER:

Yes

SOURCES:

PROCESS:

There’s been a lot of talk about new variants of the virus emerging, like the potentially more contagious variant spreading in the United Kingdom and recently found in the United States.

There’s lots of discussion online about whether or not this is typical virus behavior.

So we're Verifying: Is it normal for viruses to mutate?

Our sources are infectious diseases specialist Dr. Linda Nabha, vaccine expert Dr. William Moss, and Dr. Henry Walke, incident manager for CDC's COVID-19 response.

“I think it was bound to happen, I am not surprised," Nabha said, when we asked her about the UK variant. She explained that it's natural for viruses to mutate.

Mutations can happen when the virus tries to replicate in your body, but small errors occur that alter the genetic code, Nanha explained.

“What is means is the genetic code of the virus changes just a little bit...that is not uncommon to have a different strain of the virus," Nabha said.

Dr. Moss agreed, “So all viruses mutate, and RNA viruses mutate particularly, so this virus has always been mutating, just slowly and kind of steadily.”

RELATED: VERIFY: Are current COVID-19 vaccines effective against variant strains?

So what do these variants mean for the vaccines meant to treat COVID-19?

Dr. Henry Walke the incident manager for CDC's COVID-19 response said on Wednesday, the new variant shouldn't evade the current vaccines.

"Viruses constantly change through mutation," Walke said. "We expect to see new variants emerge over time. Many mutations lead to variants that don't change how the virus infects people. Sometimes, however, variants emerge that can spread more rapidly like these. based on our present knowledge experts believe our current vaccines will be effective against these strains.”

Both Moderna and Pfizer say they’re testing to see how well the current vaccines protect against this variant.

In a statement sent to the Verify team on December 28, Pfizer said in part, "to date, we have found consistent coverage of all the strains tested. The two companies are now generating data on how well sera from people immunized with BNT162b2 may be able to neutralize the new strain from the UK."

Moderna wrote in a December 23  statement that they predict their vaccine will be effective against the UK variant. 

"Based on the data to date, Moderna expects that the vaccine-induced immunity from the Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine would be protective against the variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus recently described in the UK," the Moderna statement reads in part, "We will be performing additional tests of the vaccine in the coming weeks to confirm this expectation."