Given that the prevalence of the Delta variant caused a surge in Covid-19 cases across the country during the second wave, the fear that the additional mutation to the pre-existing variant signals the arrival of the third wave is widespread. Experts, however, assert that not only the fear is unfounded, but jumping the gun is doing more harm than good.
“We don’t have enough evidence to say for sure whether the new variant (also known as Delta Plus or AY.1) is more transmissible or deadly. To reach any such conclusion would require us to have some clinical co-relation of the data,” said Prof Somashkehar Nimbalkar, Neonatologist and Associate Dean (Research Services), Pramukhswami Medical College, Karamsad.
Nimbalkar further added that based on the data coming from the UK, Delta is not a concern. “Take the case of healthcare workers there. Most of those who got the infection had taken only one dose of vaccine,” he said.
He said the seriousness of the infection post-vaccination depends on the host. “Anyone with co-morbidities or over 65 years of age is more likely to get affected than the younger population,” said Nimbalkar.
He also said that there is no evidence at present to suggest that the Delta Plus variant is a cause of concern, but genome sequencing is the need of the hour to keep in check the variants and virus mutating habits.
“With enough surveillance, I don’t see any reason to worry, for now,” he said, adding, “a smooth and rapid vaccination drive is the only ideal way forward.”
‘Covid-appropriate behaviour is the way out’
In a statement released by the Union health ministry recently, one of the reasons for the frequent mutations in the SARS-CoV-2 virus or novel coronavirus was the uninterrupted transmission due to lack of Covid-appropriate behaviour, which allows the virus to find an “excellent host to grow and becomes fitter and more transmissible”.
“Masks is a sure way of protecting against any variant. The fact that people don’t follow Covid-appropriate behaviour and worry about the new mutations, defies logic,” said Shahid Jameel, senior virologist and director of Trivedi School of Biosciences at Ashoka University, to Vibes of India (VoI).
Recently, Israel brought back its mask mandate for indoors after concerns of an uptick in Covid-19 infections thought to be caused by the Delta variant. The country has so far vaccinated 65 percent of its population with at least one dose of the vaccine, as against India, which still has only 19percent vaccination coverage, figures from Our World in Data reveals.
No evidence yet to suggest increased transmissibility
The Union health ministry confirmed that India has 48 cases of Delta Plus variant of novel coronavirus, a sub-lineage of Delta variant. The cases, Balram Bhargava, Director General, Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), said, was identified in 12 Indian states after isolating and studying over 45,000 samples between April and June 2021.
Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomic Consortia (INSACOG), a consortium of the 10 national laboratories responsible for genome sequencing, in its submission to the health ministry stated that the “variant frequency was low in India, with most cases being reported in Europe, Asia and America.”
The report, however, also stated that Delta Plus variant was resistant to the Covid-19 monoclonal antibody treatment – piloted in India recently, months after it was used to cure former US President Donald Trump of Covid-19.
The report also held that with the current knowledge, there was no scientific evidence of the Delta Plus variant escaping the vaccine protection.
Early data published by the Public Health England shows that vaccine efficacy against the Delta Plus variant is “reassuring,however, further testing is required.”
“No vaccines across the globe are 100 percent effective against the virus. We need to understand the difference between catching the infection and getting the disease and requiring hospitalisation. One might get Covid post vaccination, but the rate of hospitalisation with severe diseasewould be brought down substantially as more and more people get vaccinated,” said Jameel.
Gujarat meanwhile has recorded two cases of Delta Plus variant so far. “My submission to the state government is a request for a sero-survey of the entire population of Gujarat and focus the vaccination in areas where less people had been infected with the virus. This will help in protecting the vulnerable population first,” said Dr Vasant Patel, senior doctor and secretory of Colleges of General Physicians, IMA (Gujarat Branch).
All you should know about sero-survey:
A sero-survey involves testing of blood serum of a group of people. The results will then be used to monitor the trends in the prevalence of the novel coronavirus or SARS-COV-2 infection, at the district level. When such a survey or testing is done over and above the routine tests, it will help the government monitor the virus trends and also keep a tab on community transmissions.