The latest variant of coronavirus, first found in India has raised concerns in other parts of the world as well. The new strain is being named B.1.617 that has found its way to other countries as well. It is still not clear how dangerous the Indian variant is but it has been accused of causing an unreal increase in Covid infections in India. It is the second most infected country after the US with 18 million cases and 200,000 deaths due to coronavirus. Reportedly, around 300,000 new infections occurred each day for the past week. A week before that, the daily figure was around 200,000 but the officials downplayed the possible threat of this variant. However, the concerns have grown recently, as the hospitals have been overwhelmed.
Indian also ran out of oxygen while battling the deadly second wave of coronavirus. Foreign nations including UK, France, and Germany have promised to help India by shipping supplies. Even Pakistan and China have suspended their grievances to help the neighbor in trouble. It was natural for scientists to believe that this new variant was behind all of this. They have been worried since it appeared last month as it has also been detected in the US, UK, Italy, Switzerland, and Japan. Reportedly, it contains two mutations, the E484Q and L452R.
Indian Variant Includes Double Mutations
Experts are still testing the genetic sequencing of the Indian variant and the latest data showed that 38% of samples taken from India contained those two mutations. Many other countries have banned flights from Indian citing the threat of this new variant. According to experts, double mutations help the coronavirus to infect human cells more easily by evading the defense system of antibodies. Experts are familiar with double coronavirus mutations that have also appeared in many other variants around the world.
UK variant known as B.1.1.7 has also caused a massive surge in infections and deaths. It is currently the most dominant strain of coronavirus and also the most lethal one. Compared to other variants, the UK variant has been responsible for 60% more deaths. However, it is still susceptible to the vaccine. Indian B.1.617 on the other hand, has been causing infections rapidly and also shown the ability to curb the efficacy of vaccines, according to WHO officials. Different experts see the threat of the Indian variant differently and some do not see the threat at all.
How Did the New Variant Come Out?
Due to the rate coronavirus is spreading in India, international calls have been made to intensify mass vaccination, as a lot of Indians still do not have access. The government launched a website yesterday (28th April) for people to get register for vaccination. Tens of thousands of users flocked to the website and it crashed within few hours. Fears and anxieties have been growing over the rapid increase in cases and deaths, which experts associate with various reasons.
Health experts have complained about the relaxation in COVID-19 protocols and attributed it to the steep rise in cases. A lot of social, political, and religious gatherings happened in India amidst new variants on the loose. The Indian government led by PM Narendra Modi is receiving widespread criticism for letting Covid spread in India.
As the congregation increased after some restrictions were lifted, it allowed the virus to mutate and get much stronger. Although it is normal for the viruses to change over time, some mutate quicker (like flu and HIV) while others mutate slowly. Covid mutates at a slower rate but the more it circulates the more it mutates.
After jumping from one person to another it starts making copies of itself uncontrollably that spread even further if people do not mitigate the spread. Experts and officials strongly believe that these new and more viral strains, including the Indian variant, are the result of the people’s own miscreancy.
Are Vaccines Working Against B.1.617?
The idea of reaching immunity through mass vaccination still seems bleak as the demand for more vaccines continues to increase. There are also recommendations for making vaccine formulas widely available by removing patents but powerful people like Bill Gates have advised against it.
The problem with current vaccination programs around the world is that they are not enough. Vaccines being produced and distributed around the world, do not necessarily work well against all the variants of coronaviruses. Yet, they are still the best option for people to try and survive in the pandemic, so taking shots is highly recommended.
The cause for concern is that the double mutation of the Indian variant can be dangerous for those who have been vaccinated or recovered from the COVID-19 infection. Even if the body has developed an immunity to the virus, it is sometimes unable to defend against the new variants, as they have been manufactured in the light of available samples.
Experts also strongly believe that people are being reinfected given the exponential rise in covid infections in India. The WHO has urged the public to take recommended precautions seriously and the governments worldwide to normalize vaccination for the masses.