As Delta wreaks havoc, five questions answered about the new Covid variant
The delta variant of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) has led to renewed concerns across the world getting ready to ease the restrictions. The variant is highly transmissible, and currently makes up 6% of all cases in the US.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday announced a four-week delay in the final stage of easing lockdown restrictions in England - set for June 21 - due to the Delta variant. Dubbed "Freedom Day", the last and fourth stage of the lockdown roadmap has now moved to July 19.
The Delta variant was first reported in India and later declared by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a 'variant of concern'.
So how has the variant affected the fight against Covid-19 across the world? And are vaccines effective against it? Here are a few questions answered:
Why the world is concerned about the Delta variant?
First detected in India, the Delta variant of Covid-19 is 60% more transmissible than the Alpha variant, which was first detected in United Kingdom’s Kent. The estimates for doubling rate (time taken for the number of infections to double) of infection for the Delta is also relatively high, with doubling time ranging from 4.5 days to 11.5 days.
The Delta variant is said to be the reason behind the surge during the second wave of the pandemic.
Are vaccines showing any efficacy against the Delta variant?
Absolutely. A new analysis by Public Health England (PHE) showed on Monday that Covid-19 vaccines made by Pfizer and AstraZeneca offer high protection of more than 90% against hospitalisation from the Delta coronavirus variant. Last week, researchers at Pune’s Indian Council of Medical Research-National Institute of Virology (ICMR-NIV) Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin is also effective in neutralising the Delta and Beta variants of Sars-CoV-2.
However, a study conducted by Delhi's All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) said last week that the Delta variant can infect vaccinated people, though the infection does not become severe.
Has the Delta variant mutated further?
The scientists in India have said that they have found a mutated variant of the predominant B.1.617.2, which is wreaking havoc across the world. Called 'AY.1' or 'Delta plus', the new variant is resistant to the monoclonal antibody cocktail treatment for Covid-19 recently authorised in India.
Vinod Scaria, clinician and scientist at Delhi’s CSIR-Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology (IGIB), said on Twitter on Monday that the new mutation is characterised by the acquisition of K417N mutation. It in the spike protein of Sars-CoV-2, which helps the virus enter and infect the human cells, he added.
According to Public Health England, 63 genomes of Delta variant with the new K417N mutation have been identified so far on the global science initiative GISAID. However, in India, its incidence is still low.
How crucial is vaccination now?
Considering the rapid mutation of the original Sars-CoV-2 virus, which led to the spread of the coronavirus disease, it is very important now to get yourself vaccinated. The second wave of the pandemic, led by the Delta variant, showed how rapidly the infection was spreading. It also caused a high number of fatalities.
A number of pharmaceutical companies have said that their vaccines are effective against the Delta variant. So, it is always advisable to take a shot of vaccine in order to create a large immunity pool.
Is an increased gap in dosage interval a cause of concern?
A few media reports have claimed that it would be better to shorten the gap between two doses of Covishield vaccine, in light of the variants in circulation. But on Monday, Dr V K Paul, member (Health) at Niti Aayog, said there is a need to balance such concerns.
He said at a press conference that there is no need to panic. "We must remember that when we increased the gap, we had to consider the risk posed by the virus to those who have received only one dose. But the counterpoint was that more people will then be able to get the first dose, thereby giving a reasonable degree of immunity to more people."
He appealed to the public to respect the decision taken by National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (NTAGI), a body of globally renowned experts.