The COVID-19 variant that is currently wreaking havoc in India is much more contagious and is even capable of breaching vaccine protection, warned World Health Organisation’s chief scientist, Soumya Swaminathan on Saturday (May 8).
The epidemiological features of the variant, B.1.617, which is clearly contributing to the virulent second wave in the country, indicate that it’s an “extremely rapidly spreading variant”, considered in countries such as United States and Britain as a “variant of concern”. This means that is a deadlier than the original virus, quickly transmitted and can often move past vaccine protections. It was first detected last October.
In an interview to AFP, Swaminathan pointed out that it would take months if not years to complete vaccinating 70 to 80 per cent of India’s 1.3 billion population. Currently, India has just vaccinated two per cent of its population. Therefore, she suggested that India had no option but to depend on their “tried and tested public health and social measures” to bring down transmission.
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In India, the virus has spread not just due to this variant but because of large social gatherings and people disregarding the use of masks and other COVID-safety protocols, said Swaminathan. People had dropped their guard and the virus was quietly spreading as people got complacent and thought the virus had gone. She added in the interview that the virus, which was endemic (and) was transmitting at lower levels at first for many months, probably gradually increased.
However, it was unfortunate that in India “those early signs were missed until it reached the point at which it was taking off vertically,” said Swaminathan. Adding, that now it is multiplying at a furious rate infecting thousands of people making it very difficult to control and stop the virus transmission.
As the pandemic is spreading and the virus is transmitting, it is more likely that mutations will develop and adapt, said Swaminathan. The rate at which people are dying is because new and more dangerous variants of the coronavirus are emerging. Also, she warned that variants with a lot of mutations may make the current vaccines ineffective. And, that will be a “problem for the whole world”.