It may render Covid-19 vaccines less effective
A new coronavirus variant which first emerged in India has now been reported in the United Kingdom.
A total of 77 cases of the variant, known as B.1.617, had been recorded up to April 14, according to Public Health England. There were 73 cases in England and four in Scotland.
It is the first time PHE has reported the variant in the UK, said a report by The Guardian. Health officials have labelled it a “variant under investigation”.
This is different from “variants of concern” — those that spread rapidly or cause severe COVID-19. These include the ones detected in Kent, South Africa and Brazil.
The Indian variant has experts worried because of its “double mutation”.
It has two mutations in the virus spike protein that might make it easier to escape immune responses as well as spread faster.
“These two escape mutations working together could be a lot more problematic than the South African and Brazilian variants who have only got one escape mutation,” said Paul Hunter, professor in medicine at the University of East Anglia.
“It might be even less controlled by vaccines than the Brazilian and South African variants.”
The B.1.617 variant was first detected in India’s Maharashtra state in March.
Statistics shared by the National Institute of Virology, Pune showed that of the 361 COVID-19 samples taken in Maharashtra from January to March and genome sequenced, 61% or 220 had the double mutation E484Q and L452R, according to the Indian Express.
Some medical professionals in India have also warned that the new variant could reduce the efficacy of the domestically produced Covishield vaccine.
“We don’t yet know whether further mutations would make current vaccines useless, this is unlikely. However, the efficacy of vaccines may be reduced due to mutations,” Business Standard quoted virologist Shahid Jameel, director of the Trivedi School of Biosciences at Ashoka University, as saying.
Officials believe this double mutant variant is behind India’s recent surge in coronavirus infections.
More than 200,000 cases and over 1,000 deaths were logged in the past 24 hours in the country, as authorities grapple with shortages of vaccines, treatments and hospital beds.
Mass religious festivals, political rallies and sports events had led the nation to record two million fresh infections in April.