ANKARA

The coronavirus that triggered the worst pandemic in modern human history has undergone hundreds or even thousands of mutations, and the latest variant “allegedly” discovered in the UK and now spreading to other countries is an example of this, according to a senior Turkish medical expert.

“It’s extremely natural. However, each mutation should be closely monitored with clinical as well as genotype studies,” Dr. Suleyman Ganidagli, professor of anesthesiology and reanimation at Gaziantep University in southeastern Turkey, told Anadolu Agency in an interview.

Ganidagli, 52, said coronaviruses have a family with the least mutation among known viruses, but despite this, since the coronavirus pandemic emerged, there have been hundreds of mutations so far.

“However, these mutations have not been strong enough to affect the course of the pandemic in a good or bad way. Also, [mutations] did not change the course of the disease with the noticeable clinical effect among those who contracted the virus,” he added.

Ganidagli emphasized that it is too early to comment on “speculations” that the infectiousness of the virus has increased with the last mutation “alleged to have occurred” in the UK.

He said it is imperative for scientific circles to closely monitor the developments.

“According to the theoretical data obtained from the previous pandemics experienced by humanity in general, it is clear that no connection can be made between the increase in contagiousness, which is very difficult to determine, and the worsening of the course of the disease.”

He underlined that even if a rise in infection is proven, there will be no difference in terms of protective measures for people, adding that the “mask, distance, hygiene” rule is still the most valid and effective measure against COVID-19. 

Vaccine for mutated virus?

Asked whether a new vaccine needed to be developed due to the formation of sub-serotypes of the mutated virus, Ganidagli said that it is necessary, first of all, to determine how the change detected in the virus genome causes changes in the virus structure as a phenotype.

“After detailed studies on phenotype difference, perhaps a new vaccine need may arise by investigating its effect on the mutated virus and identifying a possible difference,” he said.

“If a mutation that will in a different way worsen the pandemic course is identified, and the existing vaccines will be ineffective, then a new vaccine must be developed.”

He stressed that it is very difficult to comment on this issue now as the vaccines that have been developed nowadays have been tested in small study groups and their effectiveness in terms of community immunity is not yet known.

COVID-19 vaccine development

“No matter where in the world, I see the vaccine studies as the most important role humanity has taken in the fight against the pandemic,” Ganidagli said.

The expert pointed out that vaccines developed in different centers with very different methods “give very good results, making people’s faces smile.”

He also expressed his happiness over the news that several vaccines developed in Turkey have started phase studies.

On Monday, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said there is no way Turkey would fall behind on vaccine supply and development efforts and will carry out the normalization process together with the whole world, adding that all efforts to develop vaccines, regardless of their origin, are being closely monitored.

“However, we place the main importance and priority on our own vaccines, which we develop with both traditional and innovative methods,” he added.

“Thanks to the high-tech infrastructures we have established over the last 18 years and the efforts of our scientists, as of now, we are successfully conducting eight separate vaccine studies. One of them has reached the final stage. Some of the others are about to reach the same stage,” the president said.

Meanwhile, a plane carrying the first 3 million doses of a COVID-19 vaccine ordered from China’s SinoVac Biotech arrived in the Turkish capital Ankara early Wednesday.

Announcing the arrival of the vaccines on Twitter, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said vaccination will start following 14 days of tests.

People’s vaccination resistance

Modern vaccination is a serious experience that mankind has been familiar with for more than a hundred years, eradicating many diseases in the world, Ganidagli said.

He said the vaccination resistance in certain people cannot be a “scientific case to discuss” as vaccines have “such definite and clear consequences” that doctors and experts are aware of.

“I would like to clearly state that vaccination resistance comes from scrap information that has no scientific basis,” the anesthesiology and reanimation expert asserted.

He went on to say that vaccination procedures often have their own “undesirable effects,” as with any medical care and procedures, but added that these unwanted effects “can never be compared with the threat the COVID-19 pandemic has brought to humanity.”

“Therefore, the main undesirable effects in the vaccine maybe hypersensitivity and allergic effects, fever, pain, and even symptoms of coronavirus disease to varying degrees,” he added.

He also did not rule out a case of vaccine ineffectiveness but said: “However, none of these side effects are as life-threatening as the risk of contracting the disease. Also, their [side effects] probability of occurrence is very low.”

“Once again, I would like to remind all our people to firmly implement the protection measures as we go through this restriction period — during which the pandemic has peaked — in which we had to change all our living habits from top to bottom,” he said.

Ganidagli also called on people never to believe in rumors that lack scientific basis and instead consider and accept the suggestions of experts and scientists.

At this time, when vaccination campaigns began in a row around the world, Ganidagli suggested the people get vaccinated with an inner peace regardless of the method they used as the first batch of vaccines arriving in the country.

No vaccinations could be more dangerous than coronavirus disease in the current pandemic, he warned.

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