This Article is From May 14, 2021

Vaccines Can Cover Covid Variant In India But Efficacy Lower: Expert

Coronavirus: Reported in 17 countries so far, the B.1.617 variant is believed to have exacerbated the vicious second COVID-19 wave raging in India.

India began its coronavirus vaccination drive on January 16.

New Delhi:

The efficacy of coronavirus vaccines may be reduced against the virus variant dominant in India but they can still offer protection against severe conditions linked to COVID-19, one of the country's top experts in genomics said on Friday.

"Even before these variants, a person who was infected had an 80 per cent protection at six months, according to a study in the UK. So reinfections can occur with a normal virus as well, it does not have to be a variant," Dr Anurag Agarwal, Director of the CSIR Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology, told NDTV.

"Same way with vaccination. When studies with Covaxin and Covishield were done, we got efficacies of 76 per cent and 80 per cent which means 20 per cent of the time, even before these variants, you can get infected after vaccination," he said.

"What appears to be the case is that when you have variants, this 80 per cent may become 70 per cent, the 76 per cent could become 65 per cent, so there is a drop in efficacy. However, the severity of illness is a different story altogether," Dr Agarwal added.

Reported in 17 countries so far, the B.1.617 variant contains two key mutations to the outer "spike" portion of the virus that attaches to human cells and is believed to have exacerbated the vicious second wave raging in the country.

"Even with this new virus [variant], the ordinary person has a really high, excellent chance of recovery. We saw that in Maharashtra. It's only when many people get infected at once - if they get timely medical care, they will recover but in absence of that because the system is so stretched - it becomes more dangerous," he said.

Dr Agarwal said the RT-PCR test remained as effective as ever against the new variant and said the high number of young people getting infected in the second wave could be attributed to the reopening of educational institutes as well as malls and restaurants.

India's coronavirus death count crossed 2.5 lakh on Wednesday in the deadliest 24 hours since the pandemic began, as the disease rampaged through the countryside, leaving families to weep over the dead in rural hospitals or camp in wards to tend the sick.

The second wave erupted in February, inundating hospitals and medical staff, as well as crematoriums and mortuaries.

Experts still cannot say for sure when numbers will peak and concern is growing about the transmissibility of the variant that is driving infections in India and spreading worldwide.

The country currently accounts for half of the COVID-19 cases and 30 per cent of deaths worldwide, according to the World Health Organization, which has designated the B.1.617 variant of global concern but said its full impact is not yet clear.