Kenya’s top scientist warns the world of new ‘super variants’ as India halts vaccine supply

  • In early March, a study suggested that different virus variants of concern appear to be converging through mutations towards a “super variant” that would make the fight against Covid-19 difficult.
At the peak of Kenya's third wave of Covid-19 in March, hospitals, buckling under the strain of the virus, saw their oxygen reserves fizzle out.(AFP)
At the peak of Kenya's third wave of Covid-19 in March, hospitals, buckling under the strain of the virus, saw their oxygen reserves fizzle out.(AFP)
Published on May 15, 2021 07:37 PM IST
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By hindustantimes.com | Written by Kunal Gaurav, Hindustan Times, New Delhi

A top Kenyan scientist has issued a stark warning for the world as the vaccine supply in the African nation is facing a crunch after India halted vaccine export to control the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) catastrophe back home. Kenya has relied solely on Covax, a global alliance aimed at providing equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines, for its immunisation program.

Covax provided the African nation with over a million doses of Covidshield, a version of the AstraZeneca's Covid-19 vaccine manufactured by the Serum Institute of India (SII). Kenya has used up almost all the available doses and the suspension of vaccine export by India has brought the immunisation drive in the country to a grinding halt.

According to Our World in Data, less than two per cent of the Kenyan population has received one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, and with the June delivery under Covax already in doubt, the country is looking to an uncertain future. With having such a low percentage of the Kenyan population received Covid jab, that too with the only dose of two-dose regimen, it is still above the overall percentage of the vaccinated African population, indicating that the situation in other countries is worse.

Dr Ahmed Kalebi, a pathologist and founding partner at LancetGroup Laboratories, East Africa, told CNN that the Covid catastrophe in India is a red flag for the whole world. While the third world countries, Kalebi said, struggled to contain previous Covid waves, they might witness “something worse if something is not done”. He urged wealthier nations to rethink their vaccination strategy as they are now moving swiftly to inoculate lower-risk groups, including children and adolescents.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended expanded usage of Pfizer-BioNtech Covid-19 vaccine for 12- to 15-year-olds after the Food and Drug Administration granted emergency use authorisation. Kalebi said that vaccination of teenagers “makes no sense” when vulnerable groups and potential superspreaders across the world haven’t been inoculated.

“These are likely the breeding grounds for new super variants. It is a global village. None of us is safe until all of us are safe,” he warned.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has also criticised the vaccination strategy of rich nations, saying the world is witnessing “moral catastrophe”. During a press briefing on Friday, WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus highlighted that vaccine supply in lower- and lower-middle-income countries has not been enough to vaccinate even their health care workers.

“I understand why some countries want to vaccinate their children and adolescents, but right now I urge them to reconsider and to instead donate vaccines to COVAX,” said Dr Tedros.


In early March, a study suggested that different virus variants of concern appear to be converging through mutations towards a “super variant” that would make the fight against Covid-19 difficult. The researchers from the US, UK, Sweden, and South Africa noted that the emergence and rapid rise in prevalence of three independent SARS-CoV-2 "501Y lineages'' prompted renewed concerns about the “evolutionarily capacity of the virus to adapt to both rising population immunity, and public health interventions such as vaccines and social distancing.”

“[W]e find evidence that a significant portion of the ongoing adaptive evolution of the 501Y lineages also involves further convergence between the lineages,” the study, published as a preprint, said.

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Thursday, October 21, 2021