THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Mutant variants of COVID-19 which could lower the efficacy of vaccines have been found in 123 samples from 11 districts, according to the Union health ministry. The N440K variant that is associated with immune escape has been found in 2032 samples sequenced at the CSIR-Institute of Genomics and Interactive Biology which is part of the Indian SARS-CoV-2 Consortium on Genomics (INSACOG). It is a new variant when compared to UK (B.1.1.7), South African (B.1.351) and Brazilian (P.1) lineages.
The variant was earlier found in 33% of samples from Andhra Pradesh and in 53 of 104 samples from Telangana. This variant has also been reported from 16 other countries including UK, Denmark, Singapore, Japan and Australia. "The mutation has happened in the spike proteins of SARS-CoV-2 virus. It may reduce the efficacy of the vaccine. But it is too early to say if the mutant was responsible for the spread in the state," said Dr Padmanabha Shenoy, an immunologist and a public health expert. According to him, the rising cases in Maharashtra and Punjab were a cause of concern.
Experts have demanded that the central government approve more vaccines and vaccinate maximum number of people as a way to check the mutations. "We have not found variants of concern as of now. But we need to speed up the vaccination. Even with decreased efficacy, vaccines can prevent ICU admissions and deaths due to Covid-19," said a public health expert who is a member of a state government-formed COVID-19 core committee.
As per the latest Sero Prevalence survey, only 11 per cent of the samples tested had developed antibodies, which means that a larger number of people are still susceptible to infection. According to experts, the virus mutates as it spreads to more people. COVID-19 has already infected more than 11 lakh people in the state. As many as 11 international passengers have been identified with the infection caused due to the UK strain in the state.