Do existing Covid-19 vaccines work on Omicron? Govt's reply
Union health minister Mansukh Mandaviya said on Tuesday there is no evidence to suggest existing Covid-19 vaccines being used in the government’s vaccination drive do not work on the Omicron variant of the coronavirus, though some of the mutations reported on spike gene may lower their efficacy.
"There are limited available data, and no peer-reviewed evidence, on vaccine efficacy or effectiveness to date for Omicron," Mansukh Mandaviya said in a written reply to the Rajya Sabha.
Mandaviya was responding to a question on whether the vaccines being administered in the country are effective to develop immunity against the Omicron variant, which has been spreading across the world and is fuelling Covid-19 cases.
"However, vaccine protection is also by antibodies as well as by cellular immunity, which is expected to be relatively better preserved. Hence vaccines are expected to still offer protection against severe disease and, vaccination with the available vaccines remains crucial," the health minister added.
His comments came as the government said India’s tally of the Omicron variant rose to 200 as cases have been detected in 12 states and Union territories so far. Out of the 200 Omicron patients, 77 patients have recovered or migrated. Maharashtra and Delhi have recorded 54 cases each of the Omicron variant, it said.
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Mandaviya also said the Union health ministry has reviewed the existing travel guidelines and revised rules for international arrivals were issued on November 28, which were further amended two days later, on the basis of risk assessment.
Under the guidelines, regions or countries have been re-classified as 'at-risk' based on the epidemiological situation of Covid-19 there and reporting of Omicron variant from these countries.
List of such 'at-risk' regions or countries is dynamic in nature and has been updated from time to time, he said.
The health minister said all travellers coming from countries deemed 'at-risk' will also mandatorily undergo Covid-19 testing on arrival through RT-PCR, followed by mandatory home quarantine for a week.
A repeat RT-PCR testing will be conducted on such travellers on the eighth day of their arrival in India, which will be monitored by state health authorities. Two per cent of travellers from 'non-at-risk' countries will be tested at random for Covid-19.
Those who test positive for Covid-19 will have to undergo Whole Genomic Sequencing at identified INSACOG network laboratories to determine the presence of SARS-CoV-2 variants, including Omicron.
Mandaviya said states and Union territories have been asked to undertake several activities, including strict monitoring of international travellers, contact tracing of those who test positive and follow up for 14 days, genome sequencing of positive samples through INSACOG labs.