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COVID variant B.1.617 is more infectious than other strains in India: WHO

The variant B.1.617 has been detected in more than 44 countries and has now been declared as a variant of concern.

May 12, 2021 / 01:11 PM IST

The coronavirus B.1.617 strain has recently been declared a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organization (WHO), with scientists saying the strain first seen in India is more transmissible. The variant has been largely blamed for the furious second wave in India that has set new records of daily infections and deaths, overwhelming the healthcare system.

Here's what we know about it:

The B.1.617 variant of SARS-CoV-2 virus, having three sub-lineages (B.1.617.1, B.1.617.2, B.1.617.3), has a higher rate of transmission, WHO says.

Rapid increases in prevalence across several countries has been observed and that is why it is now a "variant of concern (VOC)" at the global level.

More than 4,500 sequences have been uploaded on the GISAID—an open-access genomic database—assigned to B.1.617 from 44 countries and another five countries have reported its detection to the WHO. The B.1.617 variant is believed to have been detected in India in October 2020. 

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A vaccine works by mimicking a natural infection. A vaccine not only induces immune response to protect people from any future COVID-19 infection, but also helps quickly build herd immunity to put an end to the pandemic. Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. The good news is that SARS-CoV-2 virus has been fairly stable, which increases the viability of a vaccine.

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There are broadly four types of vaccine — one, a vaccine based on the whole virus (this could be either inactivated, or an attenuated [weakened] virus vaccine); two, a non-replicating viral vector vaccine that uses a benign virus as vector that carries the antigen of SARS-CoV; three, nucleic-acid vaccines that have genetic material like DNA and RNA of antigens like spike protein given to a person, helping human cells decode genetic material and produce the vaccine; and four, protein subunit vaccine wherein the recombinant proteins of SARS-COV-2 along with an adjuvant (booster) is given as a vaccine.

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Vaccine development is a long, complex process. Unlike drugs that are given to people with a diseased, vaccines are given to healthy people and also vulnerable sections such as children, pregnant women and the elderly. So rigorous tests are compulsory. History says that the fastest time it took to develop a vaccine is five years, but it usually takes double or sometimes triple that time.

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Initial findings by the WHO reveals that B.1.617.1 and B.1.617.2 have a “substantially higher growth rate than other circulating variants in India, suggesting potential increased transmissibility compared. Too few sequences of B.1.617.3 have been detected to date to assess its relative transmissibility,” the report said. 

The possible impacts of B.1.617 and its sub-lineages on the efficacy of vaccines, therapeutics or reinfection risks remain uncertain, the international health agency states.

“Preliminary evidence suggests potential reduced effectiveness of Bamlanivimab, a monoclonal antibody used for COVID-19 treatment, and potentially slightly reduced susceptibility to neutralisation antibodies (limited evidence available for B.1.617.1),” it said.

covid-variant-inforgraphic_final

About 0.1 percent of positive samples in India have been sequenced to identify coronavirus variants. The spread of several variants of concerns, including B.1.1.7 and B.1.612 sub-lineages, reported growth at the same time when COVID-19 cases surged in India. 

It has also been observed that in recent weeks these variants have begun to diminish, while viruses sequenced as B.1.612.2 have shown an increase during the same period, according to the WHO.

Following their identification since late April 2021, the B.1.617.1 and B.1.617.2 variants account for 21 percent and 7 percent of sequenced samples from India, respectively.

The surge in COVID-19 cases in India is also being attributed to factors such as a rise in the proportion of cases due to variants with high transmissibility, mass political and religious gatherings.
Chaitanya Mallapur
first published: May 12, 2021 01:10 pm

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