Cities across India are gradually emerging out of lockdowns necessitated by the devastating second wave of COVID-19 pandemic, and the focus is on vaccination to reach herd immunity. However, the deadly SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus continues to outsmart science and more transmissible variants are worrying experts.
India on Friday reported two cases of the Kappa variant. Both the cases are in Uttar Pradesh. They were detected during a genome sequencing of 109 samples at King George medical college in Lucknow. One of the patients, a 66-year-old man, has died, creating panic among people.
What Is The Kappa Variant And How Virulent Is It?
The Kappa is not new. It is linked to the B.1.617 constellation of mutations; it is the B.1.167.1 first detected in India and has been around for some time. It was replaced by the B.1.167.2 or Delta variant, first reported in the country in October.
The World Health Organization (WHO) named the variant Kappa in late May. This variant has been found to carry over a dozen mutations, of which two have been identified - E484Q and L452R. Because of this, Kappa is also referred to as a "double mutant".
Health experts are closely monitoring the L452R mutation because it helps the virus escape the body's natural immune response.
According to the Munich-based GISAID, which maintains a worldwide database of coronavirus genomes, India has so far submitted 3,693 Kappa samples, the highest in the world.
In the past four weeks, two samples of the variant were submitted by India.
How Does The World Health Organization (WHO) Define Kappa?
The Kappa variant has been characterised by WHO as a Variant of Interest (VOI).
It's a SARS-CoV-2 variant.
With genetic changes that are predicted or known to affect virus characteristics such as transmissibility, disease severity, immune escape, diagnostic or therapeutic escape.
Identified to cause significant community transmission or multiple COVID-19 clusters, in multiple countries with increasing relative prevalence alongside increasing number of cases over time, or other apparent epidemiological impacts to suggest an emerging risk to global public health.
How Are The Variants Named?
To name variants, WHO convened a group of scientists and experts to consider easy-to-pronounce and non-stigmatising labels for VOI (Variants of Interest) and VOC (Variants of Concern).
This group recommended using letters of the Greek Alphabet, i.e., Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, Kappa, etc, which will help people from the non-scientific community.
How Effective Are Vaccines Against The Variants?
In a recent study, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has stated that Covaxin was effective for Kappa, as well as Beta and Delta variants of coronavirus. A few days ago, the United States' National Institute of Health (NIH) also stated that Covaxin effectively neutralised both Alpha and Delta variants of coronavirus.
Last month, according to a study by researchers at Oxford University, which was published in the journal Cell, vaccines made by AstraZeneca were effective against Delta and Kappa variants of COVID-19. In India, AstraZeneca vaccine is used as Covishield.