Denmark is set to cull millions of mink, amid fears a new coronavirus strain in the species could jeopardise a COVID-19 vaccine.

They are cute, furry and apparently carrying a mutant form of the coronavirus, which has already spread to humans. Now Denmark will cull 17 million mink to stop the spread of the mutant virus and help protect the effectiveness of a future COVID-19 vaccine. 

According to reports, more than 200 mink farms in the country have seen infections of coronavirus, while mink-related versions of it were found in 214 humans since June. However, the most worrying strain of the mutant has so far been found in only 12 people and five mink farms. 

What do we know about the mutant?

There are multiple mutations of the coronavirus in mink and seven of them have mutations in the spike protein, which helps the virus enter the cells.

One of these viruses has four mutations in the spike protein and during laboratory tests proved less susceptible to antibodies from people who’ve had COVID-19. Although the virus itself isn’t more contagious or dangerous, it could make a vaccine less effective – at least in theory. 

What's next?

Danish farmers have been told to cull all their mink by 16 November. At the time of writing, 2.85 million mink had been put down. It has caused distress to farmers. 

Meanwhile, some scientists have disagreed on how dangerous the mutation could be for future vaccines. The mutant, known as ‘Cluster 5’ has not been detected since September. 

What about mink farms in other countries?

Coronavirus outbreaks have been reported in Spain, Italy, Sweden, the US and the Netherlands.

Farm workers have passed the disease onto mink, which have occasionally infected humans.

In July, Spain ordered the culling of almost 100,000 mink and the Netherlands has fast-tracked an existing plan to phase out fur farming from 2024 to 2021