Danish health minister knew of threat from mink mutation in September

Danish health minister knew of threat from mink mutation in September
Health minister Magnus Heunicke. Photo: Emil Helms/Ritzau Scanpix
Health minister Magnus Heunicke was aware as early as September 22nd that mutations of the coronavirus in mink could be a concern in relation to potential vaccines, according to a Danish media report.

Health minister Magnus Heunicke, like former agriculture minister Mogens Jensen, was made aware in September of the potential threat to coronavirus vaccines presented by a mutation of Covid-19 in mink, according to newspaper Information.

Former agriculture minister Jensen, who resigned last week, was criticised for taking too long to react to the potential threat.

The culling of all minks in the country was announced on November 4th.

READ ALSO: Danish corona mink mutation 'most likely eradicated'

According to Information’s report, Heunicke and Jensen both knew of the issue after being informed of the contents of a note issued by national infectious disease agency the State Serum Institute on September 22nd.

The newspaper reviewed a summary of the course of events, presented last week by the government in response to heavy criticism from opposition and some allied parties over its response to the mink outbreak. It compared this with confidential health authority documents, according to the report.

As such, Heunicke, like Jensen, was aware of the issue with the mutation for a number of weeks, but did not inform parliament or the public.

The government responded to the discovery of the mutation by shutting down North Jutland (now reopened) and culling every fur farm mink in the country, effectively bringing an end to a billion-kroner industry. The latter order turned out to have no legal basis.

“This is simply not good enough. There’s a need to be proactive in a different way. The earlier action had been taken, the smaller the problem would have been. There’s no doubt about that,” Hans Jørgen Kolmos, a professor of clinical microbiology at the University of Southern Denmark, told Information.

Heunicke first connected the mink mutations with a possible threat to vaccines in an interview with TV MidtVest on October 12th.

At that time, he connected this with the decision to cull mink only on farms with confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the animals, and at mink farms within a 7.8 kilometre radius of these.

In a comment provided to the newspaper, Heunicke said that “The Ministry of the Environment and Food [then led by Jensen, ed.] has the task of informing parties about the decision and background for it,” in relation to the decision to cull mink within the 7.8-kilometre zone.

Additionally, he wrote that “the government has been in ongoing contact with spokespersons from parliamentary parties regarding mutation in mink, in keeping with information received by our authorities about this problem”.

READ ALSO: 'We're in shock': Denmark's mink farmers despair as livelihood dies with animals

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