Covid-19: Denmark plans to kill all farmed mink amid virus-mutation fears

Government is concerned strain infecting animals could interfere with vaccine for humans

The Danish government will slaughter millions of mink at more than 1,000 farms amid concerns that a mutation in the novel coronavirus that has infected the mink could possibly interfere with the effectiveness of a vaccine for humans.

Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen made the announcement at a news conference Wednesday. There are 15 million or more mink in Denmark, which is one of the world’s major exporters of mink furs. She said the armed forces would be involved in the culling of mink.

Kare Molbak, the head of the State Serum Institute, the government’s public health and infectious disease arm, warned at the news conference that a mutation could interfere with the effectiveness of future vaccines.

The government has notified the World Health Organization (WHO) of the virus mutation, and also said 12 people in its Jutland region are known to have it and that it shows a weak reaction to antibodies, according to news reports.


The WHO said that Denmark was “investigating the epidemiological and virological significance of these findings, and culling the mink population. We are in touch with them to find more about this event.”

Without published reports on the nature of the mutation or how the virus variant was tested, research scientists outside Denmark who study the virus were left somewhat in the dark.

In September, Dutch scientists reported in a paper that has not yet been peer-reviewed that the virus was jumping between mink and humans.

In Denmark, the government is describing a version of the virus that migrated from minks to humans. The coronavirus mutates slowly but regularly, and a different variant of the virus would not, in itself, be cause for concern, experts have said.

Researchers have studied one mutation labelled D614G in the spike protein of the virus which may increase transmission. They concluded that there is no evidence so far that the particular mutation increases virulence or would affect the workings of a vaccine.

Denmark had already begun killing all mink at 400 farms that were either infected or close enough to infected farms to cause concern. The killing of all mink will wipe out the industry, perhaps for years.

Mink are in the weasel family, along with ferrets, which are easily infected with the coronavirus. Mink have been infected in other countries as well, including the Netherlands and some US states. Thousands of mink were killed in Utah because of a coronavirus outbreak, but authorities there said it did not appear that the mink transmitted the virus to humans, but the opposite. – New York Times