KOCHI: The emergence of the new variant of Covid has triggered another wave of concern across the state. According to experts, the variant B.1.1.529 named ‘Omicron’ is anticipated to cause the third wave. Since the variant, first reported in South Africa, had undergone more mutations to the ‘spike protein’ than the existing variants, it raises questions on the efficacy of the vaccine.
Despite the vaccination drive progressing, for those who thought they would be immune to the third wave and others who had been asymptomatic when they were infected, this variant might create issues. “When cases are coming down, the new strain may possibly cause a third wave and escalate cases, worsening the situation in Kerala,” said a public health specialist and former member of state Covid core team.
“When compared to other variants, this one has undergone multiple mutations on the spike protein that make it crucial for the vaccines to be effective. That the variant being more dominant than Delta itself (considering the mutations) is a cause for concern. Delta was highly transmissible. There is not yet any conclusive evidence on transmissibility and vaccine efficacy on the new variant, but people should be alert and follow standard Covid protocol to tackle the onset of the wave,” said infectious disease expert Dr Anup R Warrier.
The vaccine efficacy is being discussed across the world with the advent of the new variant. Since India-made Covaxin is a ‘whole-cell vaccine’ — made from the inactivated virus — experts believe that it gives broader coverage to spike protein-induced mutants. “Covaxin is made using the traditional method rather than just offering immunity against the spike protein.
However, all vac- cines used here have proven to be effective against the virus variants so far,” said Dr Monu Varghese, a pulmonologist based in Kochi. Though an alert has been sounded across the state, doctors say there is no need to panic. Around 30% of the population in India and over 47% in the state have been fully vaccinated. “Only more studies can throw light on how the new variant is going to affect the diagnosis and treatment of Covid.
But, as of now, there is no need for any panic. It is not necessary that the variants that have undergone multiple mutations pose a threat. Earlier also, there have been variants with more mutations but those were not labelled a threat. When the Delta variant emerged, we did not witness a high severity of infection in those affected. The genome sequencing in the state has to be strengthened to identify the variants,” said the public health specialist.
Tightening the vigil, many countries including the UK, Singapore and India have imposed curbs on international flights. The new variant has been recorded in Israel and Hong Kong as well. “Once formed, the variant would have travelled around by now and we cannot ignore the possibility of the new strain circulating here as well,” added Dr Monu.
B.1.1.529: Worse than Delta?
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has assigned Greek letter ‘Omicron’ to the new variant of Covid reported in two countries in Africa — Botswana and South Africa — and the Chinese territory of Hong Kong. Scientists say it is the most significant mutation of the virus yet. This has forced many countries to put curbs on air travel from ‘at-risk’ nations, despite WHO terming the move too early. The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare says the variant has serious public health implications for the country and directed states to screen and test international travellers and contacts rigorously. Samples turning positive should be sent to Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomics Consortium’s genome sequencing labs.
What we know so far
- Considered most evolved mutation and ‘worse than Delta’
- The mutated variants may have high transmissibility and infect even the vaccinated
- In South Africa, it is triggering a new wave by replacing other variants fast
- Severity of the disease due to new variant not known yet
Ways to prevent infection
Vaccinate, wear mask, avoid large gatherings, ventilate rooms, maintain hand hygiene
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