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WHO adds new COVID variant — 'Mu' — to its watchlist, warns that it could evade vaccines

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The World Health Organization on Tuesday added a new coronavirus mutation to its "variants of interest" watchlist, citing fears that the variant could be resistant to immune defenses provided by vaccines.

What are the details?

In its weekly coronavirus pandemic update, the health agency said the new variant, named "Mu," or B.1.621, was added to its watchlist on Monday after it was detected in 39 countries and showed certain worrisome features.

According to the bulletin, "The Mu variant has a constellation of mutations that indicate potential properties of immune escape."

Preliminary data presented to the Virus Evolution Working Group showed that the variant may evade or be resistant to vaccine immune defenses in a similar way to the Beta variant, which was first discovered in South Africa, though more studies are needed to confirm the theory.

Since it was first discovered in Colombia in January 2021, there have been "a few sporadic reports of cases" of the Mu variant and "some larger outbreaks" in South America and Europe, the WHO noted.

The agency added that while the Mu variant's global prevalence has declined significantly in recent months, its increasing prevalence in Colombia (39%) and Ecuador (13%) was cause for continued monitoring.

The WHO did add a disclaimer, noting, "The reported prevalence should be interpreted with due consideration of sequencing capacities and timeliness of sharing of sequences, both of which vary between countries."

What else?

In addition to concerns about its vaccine resistance, scientists will be eager to determine whether or not the Mu variant is more transmissible or causes more serious illness than the Delta variant, which is currently plaguing much of the world, the Guardian reported.

"The epidemiology of the Mu variant in South America, particularly with the co-circulation of the Delta variant, will be monitored for changes," the WHO bulletin noted.

The Guardian added that "at least 32 cases of the Mu variant have been detected in the U.K., where the pattern of infections suggests it was brought in by travelers on multiple occasions."

The nation's primary health agency, Public Health England reported in July that most of those infected with the Mu variant were people in their 20s, some of whom had been vaccinated.

Another PHE report in August reportedly found that "the variant is at least as resistant as the Beta variant to immunity arising from vaccination," the Guardian said, reinforcing the WHO's claims.

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