What we know about the mink coronavirus strain

This is the mass culling of mink in Denmark to eliminate the country’s entire population - 17 million.

A new, mutated strain of the coronavirus was discovered on mink farms in the north of the country.

It’s prompted an international response and global health officials are eying the animals as a potential risk.

Experts say the mutation could pass to humans and evade future COVID-19 vaccines.

"What we understand is the minks have been infected by with contact from humans, it circulates in the mink and then it could pass back to humans."

Here’s what we know.

Denmark has identified five variants of the virus stemming from mink.

One of them - known as ‘Cluster 5’ – has shown reduced sensitivity towards antibodies.

That’s according to Denmark’s State Serum Institute (SSI), which deals with infectious diseases.

The World Health Organization said mink appear to be "good reservoirs" for the disease.

Technical lead for Covid-19 Maria Van Kerkhove reminded however that mutations are common.

"I would like to remind you that mutations are normal. These types of changes in the virus are something that we have been tracking since the beginning. And you have heard me saying many times that WHO has a global laboratory network and we have a specific working group that is looking at virus evolution and looking at these changes."

So how far has the mutated virus spread?

Outbreaks have occurred on mink farms in Denmark, the Netherlands, Spain and the United States.

Cluster 5 has been found on five mink farms and 12 cases have been registered in humans in Denmark.

But it’s not clear why it emerged in the Scandinavian country.

What’s the implication for future vaccines?

Well, it’s too early to say.

But Denmark SSI’s initial laboratory studies show the new strain had mutations on its so-called spike protein.

This could pose a problem to future vaccines that are currently in development as most of them focus on disabling the spike protein.