How dangerous is the 'double mutant' Covid variant? Will the vaccines be effective?
New Delhi, Mar 25: Viruses are constantly changing, and this includes SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. These genetic variations occur over time and can lead to the emergence of new variants that may have different characteristics.
India detects new 'double mutant' COVID-19 variant
India has detected a new 'double mutant' COVID-19 variant" in states like Maharashtra and Delhi as it recorded the highest ever one-day spike in cases and deaths from the disease this year.
The new 'double mutant' variant of SARS-CoV-2 was detected in Delhi, Maharashtra and some other places in addition to the three "variants of concern" -- first noticed in the UK, South Africa and Brazil -- that have been found in at least 18 states and union territories.
According to National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) Director S K Singh,'' 771 cases of variants of concern (VOCs) have been detected in a total of 10,787 positive samples in 18 states and UTs which include 736 samples positive for viruses of the UK (B.1.1.7) lineage.''
Also, 34 samples were found positive for viruses of the South African (B.1.351) lineage and one sample for the Brazilian (P.1) lineage.
How do variants occur?
Mutations are changes in the genetic code of a virus that naturally occur over time when an animal or person is infected. While a certain amount of genetic variation is expected to occur as SARS-CoV-2 spreads, it's important to monitor circulating viruses for key mutation(s) that happen in important regions of the genome. Many mutations do not affect the virus's ability to spread or cause disease because they do not alter the major proteins involved in infection; eventually these are outcompeted by variants with mutations that are more beneficial for the virus.
Do COVID-19 mutations make it harder to control?
While mutations of SARS-CoV-2 are expected, it is important to continue to monitor the public health implications of new virus variants. Any increased in transmissibility associated with SARS-CoV-2 variants could make control more difficult.
How worried should we be about the new variant?
We should be worried but probably not panicked. The virus is doing what viruses do: evolving to find new ways to continue to infect people.
Jeremy Kamil of Louisiana State University, who spotted a mutation that the virus appears to have evolved repeatedly in different parts of the US said,''"It's infected millions of humans around the world now, and it's probably just getting into a more intimate relationship with our species."
What impact do the new variants of the COVID-19 virus have on vaccines?
The COVID-19 vaccines that are currently in development or have been approved are expected to provide at least some protection against new virus variants because these vaccines elicit a broad immune response involving a range of antibodies and cells.
Therefore, changes or mutations in the virus should not make vaccines completely ineffective.
How can we prevent future new variants of the COVID-19 virus?
Stopping the spread at the source remains one of the key measures.
At present, in order to reduce transmission we can do this- including frequent hand washing, wearing a mask, physical distancing, good ventilation and avoiding crowded places or closed settings.