'Delta plus' variant evades vaccines? Experts flag major concerns
The emergence of the Delta and Delta plus variants of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19), has once again put India, and by extension the world, in a state of high alert. Delta plus, reportedly a variant with increased transmissibility, is the latest in a long list of new mutant forms of the Delta Covid-19 strain which was first detected in India. While the earlier version had largely been blamed for the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic in India, the new, more virulent variant is being feared ahead of a potential third wave. With the Delta plus Covid-19 variant being detected in as many as 11 countries so far, here's everything that the public health experts are currently talking about.
What is the 'Delta plus' Covid-19 variant?
First things first, one ought to know what exactly is 'Delta plus', the new coronavirus mutant strain that's got the world worried ahead of a potential third wave of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Delta plus (B.1.617.2.1/(AY.1) is a new variant of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus formed due to a mutation in the Delta strain of the virus (B.1.617.2 variant). Since it is still technically a new mutant strain, not much is known about its severity or resistance to antibodies. Some reports claim that the Delta plus (AY.1) is resistant to monoclonal antibodies cocktail, but more research is required in this area.
How dangerous is 'Delta plus' from the earlier Covid-19 variant?
Additionally, one of the emerging variants of the Delta plus mutant strain has also acquired the K417N mutation, found in Beta variants in South Africa. Some scientists fear that the mutation combined with other existing features of the Delta variant could make it more transmissible, but again, further studies are needed to ascertain this idea.
Efficacy of vaccines on 'Delta plus' variants
One of India's top virologists and a former member of the Indian Sars-CoV-2 Genomic Consortia (INSACOG), Professor Shahid Jameel, expressed concerns regarding the Delta plus variant earlier this week. He said that the new mutant variant may just be capable of dodging immunities, both from Covid-19 vaccines as well as from earlier infections. This is because the Delta plus variant not only has all the symptoms that the original Delta variant had, but also carries symptoms from its partner Beta variant (K417N mutation), Professor Jameel explained. We already know that the Beta variant evades Covid-19 vaccines much better than the Alpha or the Delta variants, as evidenced by the fact that the South African government had returned a consignment of AstraZeneca vaccines, reasoned the virologist.
However, the central government, on the other hand, has quoted studies as saying the Covishield and Covaxin are 'broadly effective' on the Delta plus variant. Further studies are required in this area to properly ascertain the claims on either side.
Major concerns around the variant
Multiple studies are ongoing in India and globally to test the effectiveness of vaccines against the Delta plus Covid-19 mutation. India's health ministry warned that regions where it has been found "may need to enhance their public health response by focusing on surveillance, enhanced testing, quick contact-tracing, and priority vaccination." Authorities have spotlighted that Delta Plus can likely inflict another wave of infections on India after it emerged from the world's worst surge in cases only recently.
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"WHO is tracking this variant as part of the Delta variant, as we are doing for other Variants of Concern with additional mutations," the World Health Organization (WHO) told Reuters.
Around 200 cases of the new Delta plus variant had been found in as many as 11 countries till June 16 -- Britain (36), Canada (1), India (8), Japan (15), Nepal (3), Poland (9), Portugal (22), Russia (1), Switzerland (18), Turkey (1), and the United States (83).
In India alone, around 40 cases of the Delta plus variant have been detected sporadically in Maharashtra, Kerala, and Madhya Pradesh. However, no deaths have yet been reported of the new variant in India and the UK. Britain said its first 5 cases were sequenced on April 26 and they were contacts of individuals who had travelled from or transited through Nepal and Turkey.