NEW DELHI: Top government authorities on Friday announced that within 7-10 days, the results of experiments being carried out to assess the efficacy of the existing Covid vaccine against the Delta Plus variant of SARSCoV2 will be out.
The announcement comes amid concerns that this variant, now detected in nearly 50 samples in 11 states --- Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Gujarat, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Odisha, Rajasthan, Jammu, and Karnataka -- may potentially have immune evasive properties and may be capable of causing more severe disease.
In a first-ever study in the world, declared ICMR director general Balram Bhargava on Friday, India will come up with its finding on how effective the vaccines are against the delta plus variant -- which is B1.617.2 or delta variant with K1417N mutation -- reported in 12 countries thus far.
Such data is available nowhere globally, said Bhargava, adding that the report will be available in 7 to 10 days.
In a press briefing on Friday on Covid19 status in the country, senior officials said that Covid vaccines -- Covaxin and Covishield -- are effective against coronavirus variants of concern, such as alpha, delta, gamma, and delta.
The existing vaccines, however, have reduced effectiveness against the delta variant, which is now the most dominant variant in India and is being seen in nearly 90% of the samples.
While Covishield has shown a two-fold reduction in neutralising antibodies, it is down by 3 fold in the case of Covaxin, Bhargava said, also assuring that vaccines can be modified structurally to work better against emerging variants.
“It can be done more easily in case of RNA vaccines but can also be done in case of whole inactivated virus-based vaccines and adenovirus-based vaccines,” he stressed.
Department of biotechnology secretary Renu Swarup underscored that the reported delta plus variant cases in India, so far, are localised in some districts and have largely been seen in isolated cases.
Studies are underway currently to understand whether this variant is associated with increased transmissibility, change in virulence, or disease presentation and has any effect on diagnostics, drugs, and vaccines.
S K Singh, Director, National Centre for Disease Control highlighted that forming a scientific opinion on a variant takes time and clarified that the “plus” in the name of variant does not denote more virulence.
"The plus is an addition of an existing variant due to its properties. It does not mean that it is stronger than delta. If scientific evidence suggests so in future, we will inform the public about it,” he said.
Meanwhile in a letter issued to states where the delta plus variant has been identified, Union health secretary Rejesh Bhushan reinforced the need to take immediate containment measures including preventing crowds, intermingling of people, widespread testing, prompt tracing as well as vaccine coverage on a priority basis in the select districts.
The letter addressed to the chief secretaries also asked them to ensure that adequate samples of positive people are sent to the designated laboratories of INSACOG promptly so that clinical epidemiological correlation can be established.