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COVID-19 Outbreak Explained: Can COVID-19 Vaccines Fight Against Virus Mutations?

Though the mutant strains of the Coronavirus tend to spread faster and be more infectious, they do not seem to cause more severe illness or a higher death rate

COVID-19 Outbreak Explained: Can COVID-19 Vaccines Fight Against Virus Mutations?
Highlights
  • The two variants tend to spread faster; they are more infectious: WHO
  • Coronavirus variants do not seem to cause more severe illness: WHO
  • Current COVID-19 vaccines are likely to work against mutant virus: Experts

New Delhi: The emergence of a new strain of mutated coronavirus in the United Kingdom (UK) and South Africa has raised concerns over the efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines especially at a time when India has planned to begin a vaccination programme from January 16. Two particular variants reported to the World Health Organisation (WHO) have one change in common and that is called the N501Y mutation. But otherwise, the two are different. According to the WHO, the reason there is a concern is that both of these variants were associated with an increase in the number of cases in both of these countries – the UK and South Africa. Giving out more details of the two variants, WHO’s Chief Scientist Dr Soumya Swaminathan, said,

Scientists have now studied this and have found that these variants do tend to spread faster, they are more transmissible or more infectious. So that’s the worrying part. However, so far, they do not seem to cause more severe illness or a higher death rate or any sort of different clinical manifestations. They seem to behave pretty much as the previous viruses were behaving and cause a pretty similar kind of disease.

When asked how concerned should an individual be about the mutation, Dr Rajesh Parikh, Director, Medical Research at Jaslok Hospital and the author of ‘The Vaccine Book for COVID-19’, told NDTV, we should be concerned but not too worried.

Also Read: COVID-19 Outbreak Explained: What Do We Know So Far About The New Coronavirus Strains Detected In The United Kingdom And South Africa

Will Vaccines Be Effective Against Different Mutant Of Virus?

Dr Swaminathan asserted that possible mutations are kept in mind while developing a vaccine as some vaccines need to be updated with the change in the strain of the virus. Explaining the same with an example, Dr Swaminathan said,

We have some vaccines, like measles, which you don’t need to change at all. You make the vaccine; it works pretty much all the time. But you also have vaccines like against the influenza virus, where you have to change the structure of the vaccine every year, based on the circulating strains and WHO coordinates this global network that actually identifies which strain should be used every year.

SARS-CoV-2 is mutating significantly but Dr Swaminathan is of the opinion that a couple of changes or mutations in the virus should not make the current vaccines ineffective. She added,

At this point in time, most scientists believe that the vaccines that are currently in development and a couple that has been approved should provide protection against this variant and other variant because these vaccines elicit a fairly broad immune response, a host of antibodies and cell-mediated immune responses. But right now, there are studies going on in labs around the world to actually confirm that.

Also Read: Coronavirus Outbreak Explained: What Are Mild Symptoms Of COVID-19?

Echoing the same, AIIMS Director, Dr Randeep Guleria told NDTV, it is very unlikely that vaccines will be ineffective as they induce T-cell immunity for long-term protection against viruses. But, to determine the efficacy of vaccines against mutations Dr Guleria called for more data. He added,

Vaccines try and induce neutralising antibodies by acting at multiple sites on the level of spike protein and also induce T-cell immunity in the human body. The vaccine will work despite the mutations that are happening. However, we need to see will this affect the efficacy of the vaccine. I think we need more data for that. And we also need to have a plan in place in case there is a major mutation that may lead to a significant decline in vaccine efficacy; how can we change the vaccine, which can be done, so that we cover for the mutant strain also.

Dr Swaminathan also noted that if vaccines are less effective against one or both of the two variants, it will be possible to change the composition of the antigens and the vaccines quite quickly.

Adding to this, Dr Parikh said,

The Pfizer vaccine has proven effective against the mutation in a preliminary study conducted with the University of Texas. However, the data is not peer-reviewed or published. It is likely that vaccines will be effective against the variants. If not, they can be modified easily, especially the mRNA (messenger RNA) vaccines.

Also Read: COVID-19 Pandemic Explained: What Is Reproduction (R) Number And Why Does It Matter?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explains mRNA vaccines as vaccines that teach our cells how to make a protein or even just a piece of a protein. The protein then triggers an immune response inside our bodies. That immune response, which produces antibodies, is what protects us from getting infected if the real virus enters our bodies.

Currently, unlike influenza, coronavirus doesn’t mutate that much and therefore, it is likely that we may not have to change the vaccine as frequently as we do with influenza, clarified Dr Guleria.

Can A Recovered Patient Be Reinfected With A Different Strain Of The Coronavirus?

Dr Guleria explained that even if an individual is infected with a different strain, it will still be a coronavirus and an individual will have immunity against it. He added,

We even know from the past that even if you have an infection with another coronavirus strain there is some degree of cross-immunity. So, with this strain, the change is not that much. It is the same strain that has only mutated, you will still continue to have protection as far you have antibody and cell mutated immunity in your body. Therefore, if you have had an infection in the past, the chance of you getting reinfection with a new mutant strain is less. You will have some degree of protection.

Also Read: COVID-19 Explained: How Can Winter Season Impact India’s Current Declining COVID Trend?

Protecting Against The New Mutation

Dr Swaminathan said that the variant spreads in a similar way and suggested attacking the virus with the same public and social measures that have been used so far to control the spread of the coronavirus. She reiterated the health measures that have worked in the past and said,

We know that testing, that identifying those who are infectious, that being able to provide them supportive isolation, tracking and contact tracing, and quarantining all the contacts, making sure that people continue to comply with the physical distancing, with wearing a mask with avoiding crowded places, avoiding closed settings, where there are a lot of people, washing hands, respiratory etiquette, staying home if you’re sick. All of these things together definitely make a difference in bringing down transmission.

Also Read: COVID-19 New Cases Show A Decline, But Experts Warn Against Complacency As India Gears Up Vaccination In Phases

NDTV – Dettol Banega Swasth India campaign is an extension of the five-year-old Banega Swachh India initiative helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. It aims to spread awareness about critical health issues facing the country. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (WaterSanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign highlights the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children to prevent maternal and child mortality, fight malnutrition, stunting, wasting, anaemia and disease prevention through vaccines. Importance of programmes like Public Distribution System (PDS), Mid-day Meal Scheme, POSHAN Abhiyan and the role of Aganwadis and ASHA workers are also covered. Only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and become a Swasth or healthy India. The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollutionwaste managementplastic banmanual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene

World

23,96,06,768Cases
20,13,42,617Active
3,33,82,100Recovered
48,82,051Deaths
Coronavirus has spread to 195 countries. The total confirmed cases worldwide are 23,96,06,768 and 48,82,051 have died; 20,13,42,617 are active cases and 3,33,82,100 have recovered as on October 15, 2021 at 4:15 am.

India

3,40,37,592 16,862Cases
2,03,6782,908Active
3,33,82,100 19,391Recovered
4,51,814 379Deaths
In India, there are 3,40,37,592 confirmed cases including 4,51,814 deaths. The number of active cases is 2,03,678 and 3,33,82,100 have recovered as on October 15, 2021 at 2:30 am.

State Details

State Cases Active Recovered Deaths
Maharashtra

65,86,280 2,384

33,157 6

64,13,418 2,343

1,39,705 35

Kerala

48,29,944 9,246

96,421 1,802

47,06,856 10,952

26,667 96

Karnataka

29,82,399 310

9,607 43

29,34,870 347

37,922 6

Tamil Nadu

26,83,396 1,259

15,451 199

26,32,092 1,438

35,853 20

Andhra Pradesh

20,59,122 540

6,588 27

20,38,248 557

14,286 10

Uttar Pradesh

17,10,008 12

135 4

16,86,976 16

22,897

West Bengal

15,79,012 530

7,576 81

15,52,491 601

18,945 10

Delhi

14,39,311 28

337 1

14,13,885 29

25,089

Odisha

10,33,809 521

4,890 38

10,20,645 477

8,274 6

Chhattisgarh

10,05,614 16

203 4

9,91,841 20

13,570

Rajasthan

9,54,382 8

42 6

9,45,386 2

8,954

Gujarat

8,26,244 34

215 20

8,15,943 14

10,086

Madhya Pradesh

7,92,669 12

111 1

7,82,035 11

10,523

Haryana

7,71,035 16

105 158

7,60,881

10,049 174

Bihar

7,26,016 8

42 6

7,16,313 2

9,661

Telangana

6,68,618 168

4,171 40

6,60,512 207

3,935 1

Assam

6,05,847 207

3,646 157

5,96,263 362

5,938 2

Punjab

6,01,971 33

234 11

5,85,199 16

16,538 6

Jharkhand

3,48,406 11

130 4

3,43,141 7

5,135

Uttarakhand

3,43,729 28

175 22

3,36,157 6

7,397

Jammu And Kashmir

3,30,834 93

935 11

3,25,473 104

4,426

Himachal Pradesh

2,21,113 182

1,387 5

2,16,011 173

3,715 4

Goa

1,77,356 68

679 27

1,73,342 39

3,335 2

Puducherry

1,27,259 49

647 4

1,24,763 53

1,849

Manipur

1,22,432 69

1,444 15

1,19,099 84

1,889

Mizoram

1,10,719 901

13,601 435

96,744 1,332

374 4

Tripura

84,295 4

110 8

83,369 12

816

Meghalaya

82,734 87

892 31

80,411 115

1,431 3

Chandigarh

65,295 10

32 5

64,443 15

820

Arunachal Pradesh

54,958 4

202 22

54,476 26

280

Sikkim

31,722 6

224 1

31,108 7

390

Nagaland

31,516 9

230 8

30,613 17

673

Ladakh

20,867 6

44 2

20,615 4

208

Dadra And Nagar Haveli

10,675

3 1

10,668 1

4

Lakshadweep

10,365

2 0

10,312

51

Andaman And Nicobar Islands

7,640 3

10 1

7,501 2

129

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