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expert reaction to news report on mink being culled in Denmark due to fears of a new SARS-CoV-2 mutations

It has been announced that Denmark plans to cull its mink population of up to 17 million after reports that a mutation of the coronavirus found in the animal has spread to humans.


Prof James Wood, Head of Department of Veterinary Medicine, University of Cambridge, said:

“Denmark has now reported persistent infections across its mink industry, now in 207 farms, which seem very similar to those reported from Netherlands where slaughter had already been instigated. In the Netherlands, the genotype seen in mink was reported to have spread back to people, mostly workers, in the area around the farms. This led to the Netherlands decision to slaughter on a widespread basis.  Now also in DK as well as in Netherlands reports are of different genotypes or strains of virus mutating in minks.

“Unrefereed reports from Denmark state:

  • ‘Officially, a total of 12 people have so far been infected at farms mostly in the northern part of the country but health minister Magnus Heunicke said he believed that, in fact, half the 783 human COVID-19 cases in northern Denmark were “related” to mink.’
  • that the Denmark mutation is on the spike protein, that induces important antibody responses.

“The precautionary decision to cull mink in Denmark on public health grounds is consistent with the decision in the Netherlands. It has been welcomed by the animal rights organisations which would like the industry to disappear.

“The true implication of the changes in the spike protein have not yet been evaluated by the international scientific community and are thus unclear. It is too early to say that the change will cause either vaccines or immunity to fail.

“If the reports of nearly 800 people being infected with the mutated strain are confirmed, it is highly likely that this scale of transmission will have been driven by person to person transmission rather than from direct mink to person transmission; thus, culling mink may well not in itself cause the strain to disappear, but may stop further mutant strains from developing in that species.” 


Prof Ian Jones, Professor of Virology, University of Reading, said:

“There does not appear to be any report or data on this mutation in the public domain, so it is hard to comment on the specifics of this story. But the idea that the virus mutates in a new species is not surprising as it must adapt to be able to use Mink receptors to enter cells and so will modify the spike protein to enable this to happen efficiently. The danger is that the mutated virus could then spread back into man and evade any vaccine response which would have been designed to the original, non-mutated version of the spike protein, and not the Mink adapted version. Of course the Mink version may not transmit well to man so it’s a theoretical risk but Denmark is clearly taking a precautionary stance in aiming to eradicate the Mink version so that this possibility is avoided or made much less likely.”


Comment on behalf of the COVID-19 Genomics UK (COG-UK) Consortium: 

“As far as we are aware, the details about the specific mutations in this SARS-CoV-2 lineage have not been made publicly available and therefore at this point it is not possible for COG-UK researchers to provide a comment.”






All our previous output on this subject can be seen at this weblink:



Declared interests

Prof Ian Jones: “No conflicts”

None others received.

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