Pune: It is a major area of concern that in 15-20% samples from Maharashtra, the state accounting for 62% of cases in the country, a new, double mutation in key areas of the virus has been detected.This new strain of the coronavirus is particularly dangerous for young people and children, cautioned Dr Naresh Purohit, Advisor-
National Immunisation Programme.
Speaking to UNI on phone Acclaimed Communicable Disease Expert and WHO-Covid-19 technical lead Dr Purohit said that new strain causes a phenomenon called ‘lmmune escape’, which increases body’s ability to fight virus and evade antibodies.
He informed that a fortnight ago, health ministry officials declared that a new double mutant strain of the Coronavirus—its formal scientific classification being B.1.617—had been found in India. This variant has grown to become common across India and is touted to have accelerated the spread of the virus across different states.
According to renowned Epidemiologist Dr Purohit, the major mutational virus being found in approximately 76 per cent of India’s 10,000+ samples is the B117 UK variant. This strain is 70 per cent more transmissible. It doesn’t target older people who are getting vaccinated /or sitting at home. It targets people above the age of 29 years, who are asymptomatic and who step out of home regularly to work. The other worrisome variants are the Brazilian variants and South African variants. However, the first-ever double mutant strain was found in California whose positioning is such that they cannot be suppressed by vaccines.
“The double mutant strain has been found in 206 samples in Maharashtra out of a total of 10,000+ sequencing samples,” averred Dr Purohit.
Dr Purohit added that the L452R variant targets a particular gene that is found in people living in India. We do not know how well the vaccines works on this variant. These mutational strains are new, which is why it is only after the results of the current stage of vaccine trials come in that will we know the effect it has on this strain.
Principal Investigator of the National Integrated Disease Surveillance Programme stated that “The HIA-A23 is a susceptible gene that may or may not be able to escape mutation through immune pressure. Vaccines may work but with reduced efficacy.”
Dr Purohit explained that the double mutation causes a phenomenon called “Immune escape” wherein the virus manages to slip past the body’s immune defenses and increases infectivity. So far, these mutations do not have any previously catalogued variants of concern.
Renowned Physician concluded that the efficacy of vaccines against this double mutational strain only has “test-tube data” for now, but once the new vaccine trial results come in, we will have a clearer idea of its efficacy.
“Test tube data is not enough and we need to have results in the field as well,” he said.
Dr Purohit pointed that on other hand, the government has said that both vaccines are effective against double mutation. “However, India has not yet conducted any study on how vaccine efficacy is influenced by variants, although international studies have shown reduced efficacy of vaccines towards certain variants.”