Double mutant strain might be evading vaccine protection in India, says top WHO scientist

NEW DELHI: World Health Organisation Chief Scientist Soumya Swaminathan on Saturday said the coronavirus variant spreading in India was more contagious and might be evading the protection offered by vaccines, AFP reported.

In an interview to the news agency, the scientist said that these factor were contributing to the massive outbreak of the infection in the second wave.

The B.1.617 variant of the Covid-19, known more commonly as the double mutant strain, was first detected in India in October last year. As the name suggests, the strain involves two variants of the virus.

The E484Q mutation has characteristics of a previously detected variant – the E484K – which was seen in the fast-spreading Brazilian and South African variants, making it highly transmissible. The L452R mutation, on the other hand, helps the virus evade the body’s immune response. The double mutation strain was subsequently named B.1.617.

Last month, the WHO said that the variant had been found in 17 countries. However, the health body has so far listed the mutation as a “variant of interest”, stopping short of declaring it as a “variant of concern”. Swaminathan, on Saturday said that the WHO was likely to make the classification.

“B 1.617 is likely to be a variant of concern because it has some mutations which increase transmission, and which also potentially could make [it] resistant to antibodies that are generated by vaccination or by natural infection,” she said, according to AFP.

Swaminathan said that the huge number of infections in India also increases the chances of new and more dangerous variants emerging.

“The more the virus is replicating and spreading and transmitting, the more chances are that… mutations will develop and adapt,” Swaminathan said.

“Variants which accumulate a lot of mutations may ultimately become resistant to the current vaccines that we have.”

She, however, added that the variant strain alone was not the reason behind the surge in cases in India and blamed “huge social mixing and large gatherings” as well.

“In a large country like India, you could have transmission at low levels, which is what happened for many months,” Swaminathan said.

“At that point it’s very hard to suppress, because it’s then involving tens of thousands of people and it’s multiplying at a rate at which it’s very difficult to stop.”

Swaminathan also said that vaccination was not enough rein in the outbreak in India as it would take “months if not years” to inoculate 70-80% of the country’s population of more than 130 crore. (SCROLL)

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