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COVID-19 update | WHO classifies India variant as variant of ‘global concern’

The Indian variant is the fourth coronavirus variant to be given this status after the Brazil, South Africa and UK variants.

May 11, 2021 / 02:13 PM IST
WHO chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan clarified that current vaccines do have efficacy against the variant. (image: AP)

WHO chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan clarified that current vaccines do have efficacy against the variant. (image: AP)

The World Health Organisation (WHO), on May 10, said that it had classified the Indian coronavirus variant or the B.1.617 variant as one of “global concern”.

Addressing a press briefing on May 10, WHO technical lead on COVID-19 Maria Van Kerkhove said, “We are classifying this as a variant of concern at a global level. There is some available information to suggest increased transmissibility."

She added that more information on the variant and its three sub-lineages would be available on May 11.

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"Even though there is increased transmissibility demonstrated by some preliminary studies, we need much more information about this virus variant and this lineage and all of the sub-lineages," she added.

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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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WHO chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan said that studies on the variant’s transmissibility, severity and response to antibodies were “underway in India”. She also clarified that current vaccines did have efficacy against the variant.

Notably, this is the fourth variant accorded “global concern” status after the variants detected in Brazil, South Africa and the United Kingdom.

WHO noted that, while the variant was first identified in December 2020, an earlier version had been spotted in October 2020 and now spread to other countries.

The variant has also sparked fears among other countries of increased infections rates as cases in India skyrocketed during the second wave – largely attributed to superspreader events such as the Kumbh Mela and election rallies in West Bengal. Over the past month, many have closed aviation routes and blocked entry for Indians and those travelling from India.

Meanwhile earlier on May 9 Britain labelled the Indian variant of coronavirus a "variant of concern", following a rise in the number of cases in the UK and evidence of community transmission.

Public Health England designated variant B.1.617.2, one of three variants identified in India that has spread to Britain, a variant of concern.

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Moneycontrol News
first published: May 11, 2021 10:11 am

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